Tuesday night's heavyweight region rivalry battle between the Carrollton and Villa Rica high school girls' basketball teams went the way of the Lady Trojans this time around.
Avenging its 67-60 home loss to VR on Dec. 12, Carrollton was able to return the favor and end the Lady Wildcats' undefeated run with a 53-42 road decision.
The top-10 showdown began with both No. 4 Villa Rica (15-1, 10-1 Region 7-AAAAA) and No. 9 Carrollton (16-4, 10-1) getting a feel for what their opponent was bringing to the matchup. The low-scoring first quarter ended with the Lady Cats holding onto a slim 9-7 advantage.
With the adrenaline of the game settling down in the second, the Lady Trojans got to work.
A pair of 3s from De'mauri Flournoy and an additional one from Ansley Barge would give Carrollton a 20-13 lead midway through the period. Additional work down low from forward Elexus Bell would allow the Lady Trojans to carry a 27-19 advantage into the locker room.
The Lady Cats wouldn't go down at the onset of the second half, with star forward Deasia Merrill providing 10 points and six rebounds in the third quarter alone. But Carrollton would continue to have answers as senior Erial Daniel drained shot after shot from the top of the key to keep CHS up by seven heading into the fourth.
Continuing to try to fight back into the final period, Merrill took a nasty fall going for a rebound, sidelining her for the rest of the contest. With the likes of Tee Windom and Emmy Parham continuing the effort to try to keep the Lady Cats within arms reach of Carrollton, a 3-point shot by Carrollton senior Adasha Hendrix served as the proverbial dagger that allowed the Lady Trojans to escape with a critical region victory.
The senior Bell led the way for Carrollton with a 14-point, 14-rebound performance. Carrollton head coach Shon Thomaston described what went into knocking off VR in a key region clash.
"In any big game, the first four or five minutes is going to be all emotion. What I was trying to get my girls to do was to hang tight during that part and let all the adrenaline calm down. When it all settles down, that's when we want to be in a position to make our move," Thomaston said. "In the second quarter, we were able to get a couple to go down and then you start to see the lead build to four, then six, then seven where it stayed. We were able to weather the storm and it was a total team effort by everybody."
Villa Rica head coach Tammy Norred attributed the loss to Carrollton simply displaying more effort.
"They came out with more intensity and we just got out-hustled. That hasn't happened to us all year," Norred said. "We were able to cut their lead down to five in the fourth quarter, but every time they needed an answer, they got it."
Coming off a loss for the first time all season, the Lady Wildcats will look to regroup when they travel to Hiram on Thursday. While the undefeated streak is over, Norred and her team understand that the season is far from over.
"It's disappointing to drop this game to Carrollton, but we still have a lot of season left. It's just a matter of getting refocused," Norred said. "You have to have a group of girls who hate losing so bad, that they're willing to do whatever it takes to not lose another one."
As for Carrollton, it turns right around for a third straight region road game tonight when the Lady Trojans make a trip up Hwy. 27 to Rome. The veteran CHS head coach feels like his girls are finally playing in the manner in which he's wanted all season.
"At Kell, we played a complete four quarters and I felt we did the same thing (Tuesday). Moving forward, that's going to be our method of operation and the core of who we are," Thomaston said. "Hats off to my kids for coming into a hostile environment, following the game plan and doing what they've been asked to do all year."