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Comets come up just short

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ALPHARETTA — Jaime Kruppa couldn’t complain about her defense.

“There is nothing I can say,” the second-year South Gwinnett head coach said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do.”

As for her offense, she just shook her head.

“There was some confusion,” she said. “Every time it was like we would score a couple and (Alpharetta) would make a stop. That’s what good teams do.”

Alpharetta made just enough stops in a 40-37 first-round state playoff win that ended the Comets’ first trip to the Class AAAAA tournament under Kruppa.

“I could not be more proud of a group of girls,” Kruppa said. “It makes your job fun when you love your team.”

The No. 4 seed from Region 8-AAAAA, South Gwinnett played a physical defensive game against Alpharetta with the plan to frustrate the Raiders’ 1,000-point scorer, sophomore Kylee Smith.

The box-and-one rattled Smith somewhat, but she still found ways to score. Smith only hit five field goals, but was 13-for-15 from the free throw line for a game-high 23 points, which was more than half of the Raiders’ offense. And that was South’s plan.

“We wanted it to be a physical game,” Kruppa said.

But Alpharetta matched South’s physical play and it rattled the Comets’ offense from the start.

South hit its first shot of the game on its opening possession but it took nearly six minutes for the Comets to get another field goal.

South’s offensive struggles got a first-half boost by senior guard Kiara Baker, who hit three straight 3-pointers to regain the Comets’ lead at 21-16 late in the second quarter. Baker led South with 11 points. But other than Baker’s brief explosion, the baskets were sparse for both teams. Alpharetta hit just two field goals in the second, getting six points from Smith.

Four of Smith’s free throws came in succession and cut the Comets’ lead to 21-20 with under two minutes to play. South ended the half with a runner along the baseline by Jashawna Johnson, who picked up a loose ball near mid-court after getting up slowly after one of the game’s many scrums.

As it turned out, the third quarter was the difference. It was the only quarter Alpharetta outscored the Comets and the points came not from Smith, but from Lauren Brown. She scored six of her eight points in the third to give Alpharetta the final three-point margin.

South fought back in the fourth with Tina Odume going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line, tying the game with 4:49 to play. Odume scored 10 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for the Comets, going against the Raiders 6-foot-4 Delaney Hollenbeck.

But Alpharetta’s Smith hit two free throws with 11 seconds remaining and South missed its final two 3-pointers.

Yet even in the post-game tears, satisfaction still lingered. South won just six games a season ago.

“We’ve come such a long way,” Kruppa said. “This group has been through so much adversity. This senior class means the world to me. They will always hold a special place.”