Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview players including Kyana Campbell (20) and Makenna Pouengue (23) cheer for their teammates during the final moments against Duluth during a first round Class AAAAA girls basketball playoff game Friday. Parkview defeated Duluth 53-41.
LILBURN -- As strong as Parkview's girls basketball team has been throughout the regular season the last few years, it has not been quite as fortunate in the Class AAAAA state tournament.
But after two straight years of early exits, the No. 2 state-ranked Panthers finally ended their first-round jinx in Friday's home game with Duluth.
Erika Joseph and Marissa Mandeldove combined for 17 fourth-quarter points as Parkview took the lead for good a minute into the final frame before pulling away for a 53-41 victory.
After being eliminated in the first round the past two seasons despite a combined 49-6 regular season record, the victory, which moved the unbeaten Panthers (29-0) on to Tuesday's second-round matchup with North Forsyth at home, proved somewhat of a relief.
"I'll tell you what -- we are resilient," Parkview coach Tony Watkins said. "I think they felt a lot of pressure having lost two years ago (after an undefeated regular season) and lost last year and everybody talking about how they haven't played anybody (this season).
"I think it will be (a weight lifted off the team's shoulders)."
Duluth (17-12) did its part to keep the pressure on Parkview despite missing star sophomore post Katie Powell to a concussion suffered in last Saturday's Region 7-AAAAA consolation game with Mill Creek.
Paced by Joi Jones' 14 points and four steals and a double-double from Tajai Pearson with 12 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with three blocked shots, the Wildcats gave an inspired effort.
"Our theme for the whole year was, 'No excuses, just find a way,'" Duluth coach Chad Pittman said. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of girls with how we finished the season. ... Yeah, we would have liked to have had Katie. But you know what?
"That's basketball. So, I couldn't be more proud of the effort. I felt like our girls left everything they had out there."
Parkview played its usual tenacious defense throughout the first half, forcing 17 Duluth turnovers in the opening 16 minutes.
However, the Wildcats never trailed by more than four points, thanks to some tough defense of their own, poor shooting by the Panthers and a 31-23 advantage on the boards.
"(Friday) night, I think, was the first time in a while everybody was trying to rush everything," Watkins said. "We couldn't make any shots. ... I think that was nerves. Hopefully, we got that out of the way.
"(Duluth) had a great game plan. They switched defenses up every time down the floor. I'm sure we'll see the same thing coming up Tuesday night."
Trailing 12-8 after Joseph's follow layup 24 seconds into the second quarter, Duluth answered with a run of six straight points over a 1:12 span, capped by Aerial Carruthers' jumper from the right baseline to take a 14-12 lead with 4:28 left in the first half.
But the Wildcats managed just four more points the rest of the quarter, and Joseph and Victoria Harris managed four points apiece over the last 4:12 to send the Panthers into intermission with a 20-18 lead.
It looked like Parkview was beginning to take over after quick baskets from Harris and Genesis Perrymond gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the game to that point at 25-18 just 51 seconds into the third quarter.
But Jones and Pearson led an 11-2 run over the next 4:04 to vault Duluth back in front, and Pearson's two free throws with 40.6 seconds left in the period gave the Wildcats a 34-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
That's when Mandeldove and Joseph, who posted a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, began to take over.
Mandeldove, who finished with 13 points and four steals, got to the line twice and hit all four free throws over he first minute of the fourth quarter to push Parkview back in front at 36-34.
The 5-foot-3 junior then came up with a steal and fed Joseph for a layup before the 6-1 senior added another basket in transition to give the Panthers a 40-34 lead and prompt a Duluth timeout with 5:55 remaining.
Though they got the brief respite, the Wildcats, who relied on the starting five and one reserve to that point, began to run out of gas.
Turnovers and missed shots opened the door for Parkview to run its string of consecutive points to start the fourth quarter to 15 after three more free throws and a layup by Mandeldove and a layup by Tatiana Wayne, which extended the lead into double digits for good at 47-34 with 3:29 to play.
"In the fourth quarter, some of the mistakes were just physically and mentally, 'I'm tired,'" Pittman said. "There was no gas left in the tank. But again, I just commend the kids (for the effort)."
Wayne alzo contributed to Parkview's cause with three points, three assists and five steals, while Harris finished with six points and five blocked shots.
Duluth also got a solid game from both Tajmah Muhammad (five points, seven rebounds, four steals) and Carruthers (five points, five rebounds).