Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown (4) shoots while guarded by Alpharetta players Nicole King (42) and Lauren Brown (10) during the second period of a Class AAAAAA girls basketball state tournament quarterfinal game played at North Gwinnett on Tuesday.
Don't get Shayla Cooper wrong, she understands this game is important.
But it wasn't just today's Class AAAAAA semifinal game against Langston Hughes that the Georgetown-bound Cooper looked toward after the Blue Devils dispatched Cherokee earlier this week. Cooper's seen the brackets and knows what's ahead.
"It's time to redeem ourselves," Cooper said. "Last year we lost in the Final Four. This year, it's Langston Hughes. Hopefully we can get past them and get North Gwinnett in the finals."
For head coach Angie Hembree, she was happy to play another game.
"I feel good that we haven't lost," she said.
Fresh for Hembree, Cooper and the rest of the Blue Devils is the most recent loss, a 58-53 defeat to North Gwinnett in the Region 7-AAAAAA finals, the second win for the Bulldogs over Norcross this season.
And though the name Norcross was never uttered, North Gwinnett head coach Bryan Sellers made it clear that a trip to the state's Final Four wasn't something to settle for.
"It's an accomplishment obviously to make the semifinals back-to-back, but reaching the Final Four again was never our goal," Sellars said. "They want to win that state championship. They're not going to be satisfied with anything less."
Both the Blue Devils and the Bulldogs ended playoff runs last year in disappointment and in this very spot, a win away from a Gwinnett-County and 7-AAAAAA showdown. Norcross lost by three points to McEarchern in the semifinals and North Gwinnett fell to Hillgrove.
North, led by Lexi Brown, faces North Cobb today at Georgia Tech. The Warriors are the Region 4-AAAAAA champions and haven't lost since early January. When the two teams tip off at 7 p.m., they'll know who the winner faces. Norcross and Langston Hughes face off at 4 p.m. The Blue Devils, with their one-two punch of Cooper and Diamond DeShields, meet a two-loss Panthers team led by Tia Jones.
Also playing at Tech in the semis are the Blue Devils boys who also face North Cobb. It's a return to the Final Four for the Blue Devils, who were knocked out of last year's state tournament in the first round by Berkmar. The boys game begins at 8 p.m.