POWDER SPRINGS -- The Berkmar boys' surprising push at the end of the basketball season nearly added another stunning chapter Saturday night.
The Patriots took Region 5-AAAAA No. 1 seed McEachern to the brink before losing 68-61, putting a scare into one of Cobb County's top teams. The Patriots (8-21) gave McEachern all it wanted and more in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs Saturday night.
The earlier game of the doubleheader wasn't that close as the Berkmar girls fell to another number top-seeded McEachern team, 71-45.
The boys game was a riveting contest from the very start as the underdog Berkmar team played with confidence and passion. Led by a pair of sophomores who had no hesitancy in taking the ball to hoop, guard Yonel Brown and forward Brandon Thompson, Berkmar closed to within three points of the lead with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
At that critical juncture, the more experienced Indians turned to the steady play of guard Kiene Richards to thwart Berkmar's effort in the closing moments.
"Our players did everything we asked them to do tonight," first-year coach Greg Phillips said. "It just wasn't quite enough, but the effort was certainly there."
Brown showed his quickness and courage early in the first period when he slashed through the forest of taller McEachern players for a layup to knot the game at two and then the Patriots got a bucket from Thompson to go up 4-2. Berkmar's Ivan Harden added a quick bucket and then Brown turned a steal into another slashing layup and McEachern suddenly realized they were in a contest. Berkmar led after the first quarter, 14-9, but McEachern regained the lead by halftime, 32-22.
The Patriots came out hot in the second half and got an early score from guard Jordan Murry to get back within eight points. With Obu Obu cleaning the boards and blocking some shots, Berkmar was able to neutralize the inside play of McEachern's big men and fight back to within four in the third quarter. The Indians again went on a run to build their lead back to 10 at the end of the third quarter, 49-39.
In the final quarter, Berkmar closed to within three, 59-56, with 2:50 to play. At that point, the Patriots were playing tight defense but called for a foul. Richards of McEachern made two of his nine free throws of the night to extend the margin to 61-56 and the Patriots saw a couple of 3-pointers miss the mark down the stretch.
Brown ended the game with 28 points and Thompson 21.
The Berkmar girls' first-year coach, Julie McCutcheon, was pleased with her team's effort and season as the Patriots finished 10-19 for the season.
"I thought we played well the first half," McCutcheon said. "But they were just too strong in the second half. I am proud of our team because we lost a lot of close games but still kept getting better all year long."
In the first half of the girls game, McEachern had instant offense in the form of senior guard Dominique Wilson who poured in 20 of her team's 30 points. She scored the first 13 points of the game and Berkmar found itself down 10-2 before the initial period was three minutes old.
Wilson continued her torrid scoring in the second period but the Patriots' Ka'Vonne Towns showed some firepower of her own with a 3-pointer, a field goal and two free throws in the first half.
"She was kind of in the zone, she is very good," McCutcheon said of Wilson, who ended with 36 points.
In addition to Towns, who had 11 points, Berkmar got scoring from Kenisha Watkins with nine, Jazmin Green with eight and Teanna Robinson with five. Both coaches, Phillips and McCutcheon, said they have a lot of optimism about their teams since both were laden with underclassmen.
"We just have to keep working hard to get better," said Phillips, who came from the successful Norcross program.