Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross's Diamond DeShields (22) drives and shoots while guarded by Parkview's Autumn Sizemore (24) during the first period of a second round Class AAAAAA state playoff girls basketball game played Friday at Parkview.
LILBURN -- There will be two Class AAAAAA girls basketball state championship games played this season -- the official one March 9 at the Macon Centreplex and the one that took place Friday night at Parkview.
The host Panthers gave powerhouse Norcross all it wanted in a state championship-worthy showdown before falling 59-51 in double overtime in a game that essentially eliminated one of the state's top three teams in the tourney's second round.
"It was a state championship-type game," Parkview girls coach Tony Watkins said after his team's first loss of the season. "Great crowd. Norcross played good too. It was a heavyweight fight into double overtime. We hit them on the chin to start with, they came right back. They popped us a couple of times and we came back to take the lead. It was the way a game like this should be. I just wish we were on the other end."
All of the Parkview backers in the gym, packed with more than 2,000 fans, agreed.
But the Panthers have nothing to hang their heads over. They went down fighting in a game that may end up being the most exciting in the state playoffs, cementing their spot as one of AAAAAA's top three girls teams along with Norcross and North Gwinnett.
"I couldn't ask for any more out of them," Watkins said. "They gave everything they had against a team with two All-Americans. We had a chance to win it. All we wanted was a chance. I'm proud of them. I think we're better right now than we were when we left practice yesterday. We could've quit a couple of times and we didn't.
"I think that's two of the best three teams in the state. I don't think there's any doubt about it. I think that puts to rest any questions about our schedule. I'm just proud of them. They laid it on the line for us."
The Panthers took the best shots from Norcross and its stars, Diamond DeShields and Shayla Cooper, and had its opportunities to win. Marissa Mandeldove gave Parkview a quick 10-0 lead to start before DeShields took over, but then the Panthers' typically tough defense held the North Carolina-bound senior in check for most of the second half and overtime.
While focusing so much attention on DeShields, Georgetown recruit Cooper stepped up.
"They've got those two that are tough to stop and I think they'll be playing North Gwinnett for the state championship," Watkins said. "I don't think there's any doubt about it."
Watkins wishes his team could have kept its drive going toward the final in Macon, and it had the potential if the state brackets didn't shake out for a second-round meeting of the two powers. So instead of playing Norcross in a Final Four or state title game, the Panthers faced that showdown a little early in the bracket.
Friday's loss means the Parkview players won't get a state title ring, but they showed they are a state championship-caliber team.
"I love them tremendously and I'm so proud of them," Watkins said. "We're so much better than we were at this point last year. They beat us by 16 last year and the game wasn't that close. But tonight every time they hit us, we came back. They're warriors. They're the kind of girls that if you were in battle you'd want to be in the foxhole with them. I'm just proud to be their coach."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His regular column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.