The Carrollton High School girls' basketball team tipped off the drive for five with a dominating display in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs on Friday night.
Needing to win five games to capture the state crown, the top-seeded and third-ranked Lady Trojans cleared the first hurdle courtesy of a commanding 63-29 triumph over fourth-seeded Chamblee.
The Lady Bulldogs (11-12) only scored in double digits in one of the four quarters — netting 10 points in the third period — as Carrollton (28-1) kept them out of rhythm the entire evening to set up a second-round showdown with third-seeded Fayette County on Wednesday.
"That's what we live and die by. If we're ever off defensively, chances are we may have a hard time. But here lately we've been locked in and we've played some great defense. Nobody really gets good looks on us, and that's been the thing that's carried us the whole season," Carrollton head coach Shon Thomaston said. "Hopefully, we can continue to do what we're doing. Because if we're going to win it, if we're going to win the next round, defense is what's going to do it. We're hit and miss offensively. We may make shots and we may not. But when you play defense the way we do, you're always going to have a chance."
The Lady Trojans were a bit out of sync themselves during the first quarter, leading just 7-3 through eight minutes of play. But behind the play of junior post Elexus Bell, Carrollton took control of the contest in the second quarter, as Bell scored 12 of her game-high 18 points in the period to help lift the host squad to a 30-12 halftime advantage.
"She was big for us on the glass, in the paint. She did a really good job of when we got stale, she made some plays that a kid of her caliber can make," Thomaston said. "We've been telling her all year long how good she was and I still don't know if she believes us. But she got going and usually what happens is when one finds that rhythm, everybody else kinds of piggy-backs off her."
After scoring just seven in the first quarter, Carrollton tallied 23 in the second, stretched the margin to 46-22 after three and proceeded to score the first nine points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 33 points.
"I think it was just a matter of when we would pick it, not if we would. [Chamblee] came out with a little fire about them, too. So I can't take anything away from them. Of course, when you get into the state tournament, everybody wants to win," Thomaston said. "I figured once the game slowed down and we could find our mojo, we'd be all right."
Along with her 18 points, Bell also pulled down seven rebounds, while Ansley Barge tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals and Taylor Brown also reached double-figures offensively with 10 points.
Rounding out Carrollton's scorers were Adasha Hendrix and Aleea Bone with six apiece, Devonna Black-Bey with four and Kim McKinney, Rayven Brown and Erial Daniel with two points each. Daniel also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
"Just a great all-around team effort. I can't single one person out. Bell got us going, but everybody chipped in and did something," Thomaston said. "I'm glad also to get a chance to put my JV kids in the game so they can get some minutes on the floor. Anytime we're doing that, our program is getting better. So a good win for the Lady Trojans."
Carrollton will face former region foe Fayette County (21-8) in the second round on Wednesday after the Lady Tigers knocked off second-seeded Bainbridge in a 45-36 decision on Friday.
With a shorter turnaround this time, Thomaston said he was already starting preparations for the sweet 16 matchup immediately following Friday's win.
"I feel good about the way they set it up this year. It was a long wait trying to play this game, but fortunately this next one will come a little bit quicker," Thomaston said. "We've already got what we need to scout our next opponent. Now we've just got to get to it."
Story by Corey Cusick
Reprinted from Times-Georgian