Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Norcross' Bri Williams (13) weaves her way past McEachern's Mia Cooper (3) and Kayla Montgomery (33) on her way to the basket on Friday.
DULUTH — After Diamond DeShields scorched McEachern for 20 points in the first half of the Class AAAAA girls state championship game, the Indians were determined to make someone other than the Norcross sophomore sensation beat them.
Blue Devils reserves Dearica Hamby and Shayla Cooper were happy to oblige.
DeShields finally managed to break free from McEachern’s box-and-one defense to finish with a game-high 27 points.
However, it was Hamby and Cooper who played perhaps the most pivotal roles in the Blue Devils breaking away in the second half for a 61-36 victory Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center for their second straight state title.
Hamby came off the bench to post game highs of 15 rebounds and six assists to go along with six points, a blocked shot and a steal, while Cooper finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three steals.
More importantly, the duo helped keep the Blue Devils calm as McEachern made a run early in the third quarter, cutting what had been as big as a 21-point lead late in the first half to as little as 12 midway through the third.
“We knew that (McEachern would try to clamp down on DeShields),” said Hamby, a 6-foot-3 senior headed to Wake Forest in the fall. “We also knew there were going to be (size) mismatches because we have a big lineup. So, we were looking for each other.”
With McEachern junior Pachiyaanna Roberts shadowing DeShields, it was Hamby who found whichever of her teammates was open after receiving the ball in the high post.
And if it wasn’t DeShields getting open in transition, Hamby was often finding either Cooper, who scored six of her eight points in the second half, or fellow senior Alex DeMercy down low.
“(DeShields) and I played summer ball together,” Hamby said. “That’s all we did (was play high-low).”
While Hamby, who had 11 of her rebounds in the first half, handled most of the ball distribution in the second half, Cooper did her part by helping bring the ball up, and taking Hamby’s place in dominating the defensive glass.
The 6-1 sophomore pulled down the bulk of her rebounds in the second half, and also picked up her intensity on both ends of the court, getting the line for four free throws and coming up with most of her three steals on the night in the final 16 minutes.
Four of those points came during an 8-3 run that pushed Norcross’ lead to a much more comfortable 50-30 with 4:49 to play, allowing the Blue Devils to cruise home to the title.
“The fourth quarter — that’s our quarter,” Cooper said. “We take over in the fourth quarter.”