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Norcross girls lose in battle of nationally ranked teams

NORCROSS -- Tennessee power Riverdale lost to McEachern in the title game of the JumpOffPlus.com Holiday Invitational following Christmas. But the Murfreesboro school enjoyed this trip to Georgia quite a bit more.

Riverdale, the No. 8 team nationally in the ESPN Fab 50 rankings, had little trouble with No. 13-ranked Norcross, defeating the two-time defending state Class AAAAA champions 63-40 on Saturday night in the final game of the Peach State Battle of the Southeast at Wesleyan's Yancey Gymnasium.

"They put it on us," Norcross coach Angie Hembree said.

Riverdale (16-3) took charge in the second quarter and kept pulling away. Alexa Middleton scored 22 points for the Warriors, 16 of them coming in the second half. Georgia signee Shacobia Barbee had 15 points and Tyisha Petty scored 13. Norcross (13-3) got a game-high 15 rebounds from Jasmine Kemp, but that was about the only highlight for the Blue Devils as their 11-game winning streak came to an end.

Down 11-3 early, Norcross battled back to tie the game with eight straight points. But Diamond DeShields picked up her second foul and a 13-11 game became 35-24 at halftime as she and Shayla Cooper sat in foul trouble.

Hembree kept yelling at the Blue Devils to "Get back! Get back!" But they didn't as Riverdale raced to one fast-break basket after another.

"I think you can learn more from a loss than a win, because you get your flaws exposed," Hembree said. "We obviously have some things to correct and that's what we'll do."

DeShields, averaging more than 20 points per game, never got untracked after sitting the entire second quarter and had just six points when she fouled out in the fourth quarter. All of them came in the opening seven minutes.

"We had to play a different game than we wanted because of the foul trouble," Hembree said.

Cooper and Tori Carter, with eight points each, were the scoring leaders for the Blue Devils, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA behind unbeaten and No. 4 nationally ranked McEachern. Kemp joined DeShields with six points.

Norcross was still within 11 points at 43-32 at the end of the third quarter, but Riverdale pulled away by outscoring the Blue Devils 20-8 in the fourth quarter.

Now Norcross has to bounce back quickly with North Gwinnett coming up Tuesday. Both teams go into the 7-AAAAA showdown for first place with unbeaten region records.

North Gwinnett, ranked No. 7, defeated Norcross in both regular-season meetings last season. Of course, the Blue Devils didn't lose to anyone once postseason play began.

"You learn a lesson from every loss," Hembree said. "We will again this time."