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Hamby leads Norcross into tournament semifinals

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — You’d never suspect it now, but Dearica Hamby was a 5-foot-7 softball player only as a freshman at Marietta.

Then came a growth spurt and a change in interest. Slowly at first, basketball became her sport.

Now 6-foot-3, Hamby is headed to Wake Forest and is the key addition as Norcross bids to repeat as Class AAAAA state champions this season.

Hamby, who transferred after playing with Norcross sophomore standout Diamond DeShields in AAU ball this summer, put her talent on display Tuesday in the Crescent Bank Holiday Classic.

Norcross (10-0) advanced to the semifinals with a 73-59 victory over previously unbeaten South Central of Wintersville, N.C., as Hamby scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes.

“She’s doing a great job for us,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said of Hamby. “She’s up in the double-double range every game.”

Hamby, who struggled some at the start of the season with her new team, had a breakout game with 18 points and 17 rebounds in a victory over Fayette County in the Battle of the Southeast on Dec. 4.

It looked like Norcross might be playing Fayette County again in the Crescent Bank semifinals. But Troy of Fullerton, Calif., pulled off a comeback Tuesday and won 46-45 on a basket with 3 seconds left by Alecia Dimas off an inbounds play.

Troy (5-1) and Norcross will play at 6:45 tonight in the first semifinal and the Blue Devils will have to be alert for the 3-point shooting of Shelby Dougherty, who hit six for her game-high 18 points against Fayette County (6-2).

Hamby and DeShields hadn’t met until playing with the Georgia Elite Pistols this summer, but they obviously have quickly clicked together. Even without Kaela Davis, who transferred to Buford, the Blue Devils still have a potent one-two punch.

DeShields had 16 points and she combined with Hamby for 12 assists. Most were to each other.

“I feel comfortable now,” Hamby said. “I think we have good team chemistry.”

South Central (7-1) jumped to a 12-4 lead, hitting 5 of 7 shots. But Norcross — ranked as high as No. 5 nationally — ran off 11 straight points to go up 28-19 with five minutes left in the first half and increased the lead to 41-25 at halftime.

If the game hadn’t been decided by the Blue Devils’ 24-6 run before going into halftime, it soon was afterward. Norcross scored the first 10 points of the second half and the lead twice hit 28 points.

Hamby was 7-for-8 from the floor en route to 16 first-half points and also had eight rebounds and three of her five assists by intermission. DeShields had five of her seven assists and 12 points in the first half.

“I hadn’t played basketball before and pretty much sat the bench all season as a sophomore,” said Hamby, who became a starter last season at Marietta. “This has all come overnight.”

Norcross used 16 players and made 31 of 51 shots, with 52 points coming in the paint. The Blue Devils shot 58.6 percent in the first half and 63.6 percent in the second.

Shiala Cooper made a major contribution off the bench with nine points and five assists, hitting 4 of 5 shots.

The sophomore recently began playing for the Blue Devils after moving from Florida.

“She’s still learning how to play with us, but I think she’s going to help us down the road,” Hembree said of Cooper.