DULUTH -- In what looked to be a blowout, Habersham Central made a game of it in the second half before falling to Duluth 52-49 in the quarterfinals of the Region 7-AAAAAA basketball tournament.
The win gave the Wildcats their third-straight trip to the state playoffs.
The Wildcats (18-8) had a 31-20 lead early in the third quarter only to watch the lead go away late in the fourth.
"There's an old saying that you never want to play a team three times and that almost came true here," said Duluth head coach Chad Pittman. "We knew Habersham was a good team and were going to put up a fight."
Duluth controlled the game throughout the first half as Katie Powell scored 13 of Duluth's 27 points to take a 27-18 lead into the lockerroom.
After stretching the lead to 31-20 a minute into the second half, Duluth started to go cold and the Raiders took advantage.
Three-pointers by Carly Sales and Brianna Barrett closed the gap to 31-28. Duluth's Taylor Auzenne answered with a 3-pointer of her own to stretch the lead back to six points. By the end of the third quarter, the lead was still six points as Duluth led 37-31.
In the fourth quarter, the Raiders started on a 6-1 run to close to within one point. A jumper by Joi Jones halted the run with 4:34 to go in the game, giving the Wildcats a 40-37 lead.
A 3-pointer by Smith tied the game for Habersham Central with the Raiders eventually taking the lead on a layup by Haley Gerrin.
Powell's short jumper put Duluth back on top before Habersham took the lead back on the next trip down the floor on a rebound and putback by Alicia Maddox.
From there, Duluth took control of the game.
A steal by Auzenne resulted in two free throws on a foul to put Duluth back in the lead. Auzenne then corralled a long rebound, going on the fast break. A made basket and foul gave the Wildcats a three-point play and a 49-45 lead.
"Taylor made some big plays down the stretch for us," Pittman said. "Momentum wasn't with us at that point and she really came up big."
Habersham (16-10) answered with a layup underneath with 29 seconds to go, getting the Raiders back to within two.
The Raiders had a chance to tie the game after Duluth missed one of two free throws. However, a traveling violation on Smith turned the ball over to Duluth as the Wildcats sank two free throws to effectively put the game away.
"Our girls showed good composure there at the end," Pittman said. "That's due in large part to the team being comprised of juniors and seniors."
Duluth was led by Powell with 16 points, while Auzenne finished with 12 and Jones had 11.
The Raiders were led by Gerrin with 23 points.
Norcross 48, Collins Hill 17
Even without star player Diamond DeShields, Norcross dominated in all phases of the game as it outscored Collins Hill 40-4 in the first half en route to the victory.
The Blue Devils were led by Shayla Cooper with 16 points, while Sierra Butler chipped in seven.
The Eagles were led by Sydney Brown with five points.