After succumbing to two devastating, one-score losses in its previous matchups this season, it was the Villa Rica High School boys' basketball team which roared triumphant in Thursday’s semifinal battle behind a 68-61 victory over rival Carrollton to advance to the Region 7-AAAAA title round.
Like their regular-season bouts, second-seeded Carrollton (16-10) and sixth-seeded Villa Rica (13-13) traded blows for a majority of the ballgame with the Trojans carrying a 47-45 lead into the fourth.
CHS seemingly established the separation that it needed when senior forward Isaiah Lancaster buried a pair of 3s to put the Trojans up by six.
VR had other plans, however.
After a Jeffrey Dudley trey got them back to within three with two minutes left, a pair of steals by Dudley and Jai Ackey gave way to easy layups for Micah Hodges and Phillip Zachery to give the cardiac Cats a 62-61 lead with roughly a minute left.
Successful free throws from Xavion Sparks and Dudley allowed VR to push its lead out down the stretch and a last-ditch 3-point attempt from Carrollton’s Melvin Edwards clanked off the iron, causing the Purple and Gold faithful to erupt in deafening cheers as their Cats earned a spot in the championship game.
“We’re down eight with about three minutes to go and we end up scoring and taking our last timeout,” VR head coach Jason Robinson said of the game’s final minutes. “I told our guys, ‘It’s now or never. We have to get a couple of steals and get some shots,’ and we did.”
Robinson continued to praise his team’s efforts in the upset.
“I can’t say enough for how hard our guys fought. There’s a flu running rampant around here, so we had to battle through some adversity,” Robinson said. “I’m just so proud of them for not giving up. We’ve lost six games by seven points or less, two to (Carrollton), and that’s hard on your psyche when your 16 to 18 years old. They’ve battled.”
CHS head coach Tim Criswell commented on the tough tournament loss.
“We had a good lead, but committed four turnovers in the last three minutes and they turned it into buckets. We made some mistakes that you hope you don’t make in those types of games,” Criswell said. “Our kids played hard and gave a great effort, but it just didn’t go our way.”
Carrollton will return to Villa Rica today at 5:30 p.m. to play the loser of top-seeded Kell and fourth-seeded Rome in the consolation game.
“I told our guys that it hurts, but we’ve got a game (today) and we have to come back and try to get the three seed for the state tournament,” Criswell said.
Getting hot when it mattered the most, VR will have a shot at claiming the 7-AAAAA title tonight at 8:30 when facing the winner of Rome-Kell.
“It’s a huge game, but it takes a lot out of us, as far it does physically. We have to go home and hydrate, get meds in us and see what we’ve got (Friday),” Robinson said. “When you got an opportunity to hang a region banner, that doesn’t come along very often. We’re excited and I’m just happy it’s at home. We tend to shoot well at home, so we’ll see what happens.”