Photo: David McGregor Berkmar's Daijah Cooke looks for a shot as Central Gwinnett's Jackie Finnegan defends during the first quarter of one of the 8-AAAAAA Region Tournament games on Wednesday night at South Gwinnett.
SNELLVILLE --While he appreciated the game ball he received for an individual honor, Central Gwinnett girls basketball coach Jason Adams was more excited about his team's accomplishment Wednesday night.
Adams' 100th career victory, a 59-54 win over Berkmar in the Region 8-AAAAAA Tournament opener, sent the Black Knights back to the state tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
They had missed state the past three seasons because of losses in the region tourney openers, with two of those coming on last-second shots, but they made plays late against Berkmar and rallied from a three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
"We talked about it being a big-time moment," Adams said. "You have to step up and make big-time plays. We made some big-time plays. Luckily (Berkmar) missed some 3s and we got some rebounds and got some extra possessions. And we hit free throws. That's what it came down to, making free throws and getting stops."
Central (16-9) was one of four teams tied for the No. 3 spot in 8-AAAAAA after the regular season, falling to the No. 6 tourney position because of tiebreakers and a 56-49 Senior Night loss to Berkmar just five days earlier.
For much of Wednesday's game, it looked like the Patriots (13-12) would notch back-to-back wins over Central.
But Berkmar held its last lead with 3:32 remaining and the Black Knights converted free throws to clinch the win. Alexandra Frazier, who had a game-high 23 points, made 6 of 8 from the line in the fourth.
Amy Adame's 3-pointer with 24 seconds left closed the Central lead to 56-54 and teammate Daijah Cooke fouled out on the inbounds pass. Briana McGee (11 points) made 1 of 2 free throws, but without Cooke (17 points) on the floor Berkmar turned it over without attempting a 3-pointer to tie.
Frazier closed it out on two free throws with nine seconds left.
"I'm just proud as heck for them," Adams said. "We had a tough loss to (Berkmar) on Senior Night. I always try to find the positives in things and that (loss) helped us. It humbled us after beating them the first time (66-56 on Jan. 8). It gave us some hunger. We knew coming over here that we didn't want to be done (playing)."
Carol Reynolds had 10 points and 16 rebounds for the Black Knights, who play Archer at 4 p.m. Friday in the tourney semifinals. Teammate Lexus Travis added eight points and five boards.
Berkmar also 15 points and seven rebounds from La Petit, 10 points and six rebounds from Jirah Simpkins and 13 rebounds from JaTaja Washington.