Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross Jasmine Kemp (25) shoots over North Gwinnett's Bailey Rexing (5), drawing a four during the fourth period of Tuesday's game.
NORCROSS -- With Diamond DeShields left to play the rest of the game virtually one-handed and the lead down to three points early in the second quarter, the Norcross girls needed a spark.
Bri Williams supplied it in the Region 7-AAAAA first-place showdown Tuesday night against visiting North Gwinnett.
"She can score if she needs to," Norcross coach Angie Hembree said of her 5-foot-4 sophomore point guard. "She just never needs to."
This time a little extra offense, along with Williams' normal defensive tenacity, came in mighty handy.
Williams converted a four-point play after being fouled on a shot from behind the arc and defending two-time Class AAAAA state champion Norcross was off on a 16-2 run over the final seven minutes of the first half.
North Gwinnett, which had won 12 straight games, kept gradually cutting into the lead, but it proved too much of a hole to dig out off as No. 2-ranked Norcross (14-3, 8-0) claimed the region lead all to itself with the 48-37 victory.
DeShields, unable to regain full use of her left hand, had just four of her 12 points after she went down hard late in the first quarter.
"She couldn't get the feeling back," Hembree said. "It numbed her fingers out."
With their star limited, the rest of the Blue Devils had to step up. They did, especially in the pivotal second quarter.
Down 12-2 less than four minutes into the game, No. 4-ranked North Gwinnett (13-2, 6-1) was back within 20-15 at the end of the first quarter and then Peyton Whitted scored a quick basket to cut the margin to three points.
But Williams hit her big 3-pointer and the free throw that followed. Turning up the heat defensively, Norcross built a 36-19 halftime lead. North Gwinnett's only two points during the Norcross run came at the foul line.
"I thought the kids did a great job defensively, because (North Gwinnett) can shoot," Hembree said. "Our defense was what I was the most proud of."
Williams was a big part of that, making Bulldogs star Lexie Brown work hard for her game-high 16 points. Brown hit a pair of 3-pointers and was 6-for-6 from the foul line.
"Bri did a great job defensively on Lexie," Hembree said.
Williams, though, was hardly the only Norcross player who stepped up. Shayla Cooper missed just one shot while matching DeShields' 12 points, Jasmine Kemp had a game-high 14 rebounds and Tori Carter contributed 12 points and four assists.
North Gwinnett kept battling and closed to 44-37 on a basket by Baylee Rexing with 1:36 left. But Carter made two steals in the final minute and converted both of them into layups to put away the victory.
Norcross, coming off a disappointing showing against Tennessee power Riverdale on Saturday, won despite scoring just 12 second-half points, six coming in each quarter.
"We were trying to run our offense," Hembree said. "It just looked like a delay."
The only two losses by Norcross tp state competition last season came against North Gwinnett.
This season, the Blue Devils will get a chance at a regular-season sweep. The teams play again on Feb. 10 at North Gwinnett.
Of course, another match-up in the region tournament likely follows that and a fourth meeting in the state tournament is also a possibility.