Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' William Gibbons (1) and Collins Hill's Tommy Jennings (10) dive for the ball during the second period of Friday's game played at Collins Hill.
SUWANEE -- The formula for Norcross' boys was simple on Friday night -- win their regular season finale against Collins Hill and capture the regular season title.
As it turned out, it was anything but simple.
Using a pair of key defensive stands in the final 11.6 seconds, Norcross held on for dear life against the Eagles to come away with a 57-54 win.
The victory secured the top seed in the next week's Region 7-AAAAAA tournament, where the Blue Devils (19-6, 14-2) will play on Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game with Mountain View and Habersham Central.
"A lot (of us coaches) felt that our region is the toughest one in the state," Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan said. "We've had five teams ranked in the top 10 during the year and there's not one team you can take for granted and tonight was big-time example of that.
"We started well tonight but Collins Hill had a game plan and stuck to it. They really bothered us with their zone and were able to get back in it. It was nearly a dead even game after that."
Norcross came out of the gates hot and took a 20-13 lead in the first quarter, led by a 13-point outburst from Andre Chatfield.
Chatfield, who led all players with 20 points, was zeroed in from long range early on, hitting three 3-pointers in the first, while a 3-pointer from Brandon Goodwin in the final second of the period put the Blue Devils up by seven.
However, that field goal by Goodwin would be the last Norcross would get in the first half as the Eagle defense held the Blue Devils to just four points in the second period, all of those coming on free throws.
That opened the door for Collins Hill, an opening the Eagles steadily pushed through with 16 points in the second.
Darius Joell led that charge with seven in the second, while four other Eagles contributed with points to help give Collins Hill a 29-24 halftime edge.
Whatever doldrums Norcross had in the second quarter went away in the third as Norcross outscored Collins Hill 23-14 to carry a 47-43 lead into the fourth quarter.
Khalen Pinkett, who was scoreless in the first half, provided the spark Norcross needed with nine of his 11 points in the third.
But Collins Hill wouldn't go away, reclaiming the lead at 49-47 when Eric Ambrosio scored off an inbounds pass with 3:43 left.
Norcross rallied for the next five points to go up 52-49, but Ambrosio struck again, this time with a 3-pointer with 1:45 left to tie the score at 52-52.
Lorenzo Carter put Norcross back up at 54-52 with a pair of free throws, ultimately giving Norcross the lead for good, but Collins Hill had two chances in the closing seconds to steal this one away.
With 11.6 seconds left and Norcross leading 56-54, the Eagles brought the ball up court when Goodwin, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, stole a cross-court pass and was fouled on the ensuing layup with 3.5 seconds left.
Goodwin would hit one of two for a three-point lead.
After some confusion as to which team called timeout after Goodwin hit his free throw, Collins Hill had one more shot to tie, but the long pass down court was stolen again, this time by Chris Herndon, preserving the game and cementing the Blue Devils as the top seed.
"We have one or two wrinkles we can do defensively to hold for certain spots and tonight it paid off," McMillan said.
Collins Hill, which came into Friday's game with the fourth seed already locked up, was led by 19 points and six rebounds from Devin Mitchell.
Darius Joell followed with 11 points and five boards, while Ambrosio added eight points.
The Eagles will open the tournament against fifth-seed Mill Creek.
Norcross girls 68,
Collins Hill 45
Norcross finished the regular season with a 68-45 win over Collins Hill, leaving Norcross and North Gwinnett tied for first.
The region's top seed will be determined this morning via a coin flip, while Collins Hill will host Meadowcreek on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Region 7-AAAAAA tournament play-in game.
Shayla Cooper had a huge night for Norcross (21-4, 15-1) with 29 points and five rebounds, while Javonne Stanfield added 14 points and five assists. Norcross was without starter Diamond DeShields, who sat out in order to rest an injury for next week's region tournament.
Collins Hill (6-19, 2-14) was led by nine points from Sydney Brown. Nykeria Smith added seven points, while Madison McAfee finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists.