Criswell Court was packed to max capacity on Tuesday night for the highly-anticipated heavyweight fight between the No. 2 Villa Rica High School girls' basketball team and No. 10 Carrollton.
After a punch-for-punch battle, it was the visiting Lady Wildcats who came out on top with a 58-51 win over their arch-league rivals.
The intense Region 7-AAAAA opener for both teams began as a back-and-forth affair as the two rivals spent a good portion of the first quarter working the ball into the paint for points.
After a 3 from Lady Trojan freshman guard Kehindi Obasuyi tied the contest at 10, quick layups from Deasia Merrill and Aliyah Hindsman put the Lady Wildcats (5-0, 1-0) back on top. They’d end the period holding a slim 14-12 advantage.
VR would go cold from the field in the beginning stretches of the second as Carrollton’s man-to-man defense cut down its offensive production. On the other end, deep 3s from Obasuyi and senior Rachel Herrera would jumpstart an 8-0 run for the home Lady Trojans.
Battling their way back into the bout, the University of Kentucky-bound Merrill buried a 3 to bring the visitors back to within one. Trading leads for the rest of the quarter, a pair of De’Mauri Flournoy free throws gave Carrollton a 27-25 advantage heading into halftime.
The two continued to trade blows into the second half with the Lady Cats regaining the lead off a Dekyia Cofield layup. The Purple and Gold ended the third holding onto a 38-35 lead.
Quarter No. 4 provided plenty of drama for the raucous crowd at CHS.
Once again trading leads for a four-minute stretch, the sophomore Flournoy once again came through at the charity stripe to tie the heavyweight fight at 51-all with 3:15 left in the ballgame.
That’s when Villa Rica finally separated themselves.
On back-to-back Carrollton (2-2, 0-1) possessions, Merrill came down with a clutch defensive rebound and both times found a streaking Hindsman downcourt with an outlet pass that led to an easy layup. Up multiple scores, VR would hang on for the key Tuesday night road win.
Merrill finished the battle with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Hindsman offered 14 points, seven boards and four steals.
“You just keep fighting and fighting and good things will happen,” Villa Rica head coach Tammy Norred said. That’s as much as a team effort as I’ve seen in a long time. Those rebounds at the end were big, but so were the rebounds that Hannah Goen got. Aliyah running the floor, Cofield stepping up to play defense, Kyndal Coleman having to guard (Obasuyi). In the end, we got to run the floor like we want to."
Carrollton head coach Shon Thomaston thought both teams played their hearts out for the full 32 minutes and gave the packed house their money’s worth.
“The excitement was to be expected in an environment like this. What basketball player doesn’t want to play in this? Hats off to both teams for putting on a good show for this capacity crowd,” Thomaston said. “They have a difference-maker on their team (Merrill), and to be honest, there’s not a whole lot you can do when she decides to put the team on her back and make plays. The thing is, the other girls on her team are solid. They have a well-rounded team and coach Norred does a great job coaching those girls. They play within themselves and play together.”
Flournoy ended up topping the Lady Trojans with 29 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with less than a minute left to play. Thomaston talked about the gutsy performance of his rising sophomore.
“She’s a gamer,” Thomaston said. “There’s no moment that’s going to be too big for her. That kid’s a threat every time the ball is in her hands. Everyone got to see that (Tuesday) and I see it every day.”
The Lady Trojans will look to pick up their first region win this Friday at 6 p.m. when traveling to Hiram. The Lady Wildcats will also return to action on Friday at 7 p.m. when traveling to Bremen.