ALPHARETTA - After several near misses over the last few years, Norcross' girls finally reached an elusive goal.
With its 54-40 win over Peachtree Ridge in the second round of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament on Tuesday night at Chattahoochee High School, Norcross not only reached the tournament semifinals, but more importantly, earned a long-awaited berth in the Class AAAAA state tournament.
"This group of girls has never been to state," head coach Angie Hembree said. "We missed it by a game last year and I'm glad to get them through this year."
Vanderbilt commit Tiffany Clarke, one of four seniors on the Blue Devils squad, did all she could to make sure that her team had a date to the big dance this year.
"This will be my first time going to state and it's a tremendous deal," Clarke said, who finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds. "I don't think anyone has worked as hard as we have and it's a big accomplishment."
Peachtree Ridge, who upended South Forsyth 51-49 Monday night in the opening round of the tournament, kept it close in the first two quarters and trailed by just six points in the closing seconds of the first half.
However, Briana Jordan, who finished with 10 points on the night for Norcross, hit a 3-pointer with just three seconds left in the period, giving the Blue Devils (21-5) a 31-22 lead at the break and the spark they were looking for.
"I'm not happy with the way we played in the first half," Hembree said. "But I thought we settled in during the third quarter. Those first-game jitters had worn off and we started hitting some shots and playing some defense."
The momentum from Jordan's shot helped Norcross' lead swell to as many as 20 points late in the third. Clarke, who was recently selected to play in the North-South all-star game, helped lead that charge with six points in the period as Norcross outscored the Lions (10-17) 15-6 in the third.
Peachtree Ridge, however, still had some life left in it as the Lions opened the fourth quarter with an 11-1 run. D'Atra Sawyer, who scored nine points on the night, hit a 3-pointer with 5:30 to play to cut the margin to 47-37 and Erika Waters followed that up with a steal and a layup to make the score 47-39 with 4:50 to play.
After a Norcross timeout, the Blue Devils went back to the formula it used in the third period - solid defense and tenacious rebounding - helping Norcross hold the Lions to just one point the remainder of the game.
The win puts Norcross in the tournament semis where it will play Duluth on Thursday at 6 p.m. at North Gwinnett. With the trip to state already booked, Norcross now has just one thing on its mind.
"Nothing matters now except Duluth on Thursday," Clarke said.
Waters would finish the night with 12 points while Brittany Jack scored 13 to lead the Lions.