It felt like déjà vu. The underdog Starr’s Mill Panthers seized control against the region favorite Fayette County Tigers, and the game began to unfold exactly like the Jan. 27 Panthers’ upset victory over the Tigers. This time, however, there was a region championship on the line, so Fayette County finished like champions.
The Fayette County Tigers (20-7, 11-1) claimed the AAAAA Region 3 title Friday night at Starr’s Mill (17-10, 7-5) with a 62-60 overtime victory, despite trailing for the first three-and-a-half quarters. Fayette County manufactured several comebacks, none as crucial as the final 6.2 seconds in regulation, when sophomore guard Josh Dupree streaked down the court and scooped in a layup at the buzzer to erase a two-point deficit and put four more minutes on the clock.
Aside from being behind most of the game, Fayette County was forced to overcome the loss of its top player, Noah Gurley, who fouled out in the fourth quarter at around the time the Tigers took their first lead of the game.
Fayette County head coach Andre Flynn said he preached a team-first mentality, and other players stepped up in Gurley’s place to finish strong and earn the school’s first region championship since 2011.
“I told them they’ve got to keep their head up, and they did,” Flynn said. “I’m proud of them. I’m happy.”
Flynn wasn’t happy through the first eight minutes of the game, when Fayette County went the entire first quarter without scoring a field goal.
Starr’s Mill sophomore forward Nate Allison scored the first points of the game with an emphatic dunk, signaling to the Tigers that this game would be more like the teams’ second meeting this season than the first, when the Panthers lost by 18 points.
Starr’s Mill wasn’t able to take full advantage of a dismal offensive start for Fayette County, as the Panthers only led 10-5 at the end of the first quarter.
Fayette County finally tied the game at 22 with under a minute remaining in the second quarter, when senior guard Phillips Young made two consecutive free throws. The Tigers still trailed 23-22 at halftime.
Dupree tied the game once more at 29-29 with a 3-pointer, and senior guard Kahmonnie Willis knotted the score at 31-31 with a long two-point jumper. Starr’s Mill finally started to break away, responding with a 10-2 run to make it 41-33.
“These guys had it in them,” said Starr’s Mill head coach Brandon Hutchins. “They weren’t going to quit, and they were going to keep fighting regardless. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Fayette County senior guard Austin Nesmith wasn’t willing to let the game get away from the Tigers, as he made a two-point jumper, collected an offensive rebound and converted it into a layup, and ended the third period with a 3-pointer to keep the Fayette County deficit at 44-42 heading into the fourth quarter.
Dupree gave the Tigers their first lead at 48-47 with a layup with 4:33 on the clock, and with just over a minute left, Young made two more free throws to give Fayette County its largest lead of the game at 52-49. A pair of two-point shots from junior guard Zach Pina and junior forward Drew Hudson put Starr’s Mill ahead, and a free throw from Pina gave the Panthers a 56-54 lead with 6.2 seconds left.
Dupree cut through the defense with ease to force overtime, but Starr’s Mill scored first in the extra frame. Nesmith contributed again at a key moment, hitting a 3-pointer to put Fayette County in front 59-58. Although Pina tied it at 60-60, a free throw from Dupree and another from Young gave the Tigers the victory, as they were able to hold the Panthers scoreless through their final few possessions.
“They didn’t crack,” Flynn said.
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Lady Chiefs can’t cage 25-1 Griffin Bears in region title game
It’s a tall task competing with a team that hasn’t lost a single region game all season, especially when it’s the biggest game of the season. The McIntosh Lady Chiefs hung in the game early, but once the margin expanded to double digits, it was all but over.
The Chiefs (19-8, 7-5) lost to the Griffin Bears (25-1, 13-0) 61-34 in the AAAAA Region 3 championship Friday at Starr’s Mill High School. Griffin only led by six at the half, but a 10-0 run in the third quarter gave the Bears the cushion they needed to cruise to victory.
“They’re a really tough matchup for us with their skill,” said McIntosh head coach David Dowse. “They’re athletic. And they just dominated.”
Senior DeLayne Rotolo hit two free throws early on to give McIntosh a 4-3 lead. That was the last time the Chiefs led, as Griffin scored the final six points of the first quarter to lead 10-4.
Trailing by 10 in the second quarter, sophomore Rylee Calhoun drained a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to cut the McIntosh deficit to 16-9. At halftime, McIntosh trailed 19-13.
“We really felt we had a chance to be leading at that point and when we weren’t, it’s tough,” Dowse said. “It was an uphill battle.”
Calhoun and senior Savannah Soles made two quick baskets to open the second half, but after Griffin scored 10 straight points in two-and-a-half minutes, McIntosh fell behind 35-18.
The Chiefs were undeterred. Following the 10-0 run, four different players scored for McIntosh on four consecutive possessions. However, the Griffin offense had already found its groove.
At the end of the third quarter, McIntosh was down 44-27. Griffin’s 6-foot-2 senior forward Andeija Puckett took control in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of her 18 points in the final act.
“When we get down, we’ve gotta play with a little bit more tempo,” Dowse said.