LILBURN — Dacula spent most of its Region 8-AAAAAA boys semifinal game against Berkmar trying to climb back from the huge early deficit it faced.
But when the fourth-seeded Falcons finally got to the top of the mountain to force overtime, the host and top-seeded Patriots were finally able to knock them off for good.
Jonathan Sanks’ jumper with 1:34 left in the extra frame gave Berkmar the lead for good, and the Patriots hit just enough free throws to survive for an 80-77 win Tuesday at Berkmar.
The win sends the Patriots (21-6) into the region championship game against Shiloh tonight at 8:30, while Dacula (18-9) falls into the third-place game at 5:30 opposite Grayson.
But it was a game both teams had chances to win.
“That’s a heck of a team,” and emotionally-exhausted Berkmar coach Greg Phillips said of his team’s opponent, which rallied from as much as a 14-point deficit in the first half. “Dacula played really, really well. It’s a shame someone had to lose a game like that. We really won with our passion and hustle. Not that Dacula didn’t want it, but we wanted this really bad.”
Early on, it didn’t look like the Patriots would have to work quite so hard.
Berkmar dominated the rebounding battle in the first half, owning a 20-6 advantage on the boards over the opening 16 minutes.
That glasswork helped the Patriots take advantage of some cold shooting from Dacula in the first quarter and jump out in front early.
Five points from freshman Al Durham highlighted a 14-6 run over the final 4:50 of the opening frame that broke an early tie and left Berkmar with a 19-11 lead by the end of the period.
That momentum carried over into the early moments of the second quarter as 3-pointer by Jonathan Sanks and two buckets each by James Sanders and Tim Rowe capped an 11-3 spurt that left the Patriots with their biggest lead of the half at 30-14 after Rowe’s layup with 5:05 left in the first half.
But that’s when Dacula began to heat up on its offensive end.
Cam Moye began to attack the basket before pulling up for jumpers, and hit three of them during the final 4:42 of the half, including a pull-up 3-pointer just to the right of the key that pulled the Falcons back to within single digits at 34-25 heading into intermission.
“I didn’t feel like at any point that the game was over and that we couldn’t start to come back,” Dacula coach Russ Triaga said. “I felt like we were going to score. … I felt like what we needed to do was string together some stops, and we could climb back in it.”
After trailing by as many as 14 again at 43-29 with 5:35 left in the third quarter, the Falcons started to get those stops, and slowly pulled back into the game.
Moye completed a conventional three-point play on Dacula’s next possession, igniting a 24-13 run over the remainder of the quarter to pull the Falcons to within 56-52 heading into the fourth quarter.
And when Kevon Tucker hit a layup in transition off a feed from Gary Bishop, Dacula had taken its first lead of the game at 59-58 with 6:29 left in regulation.
Berkmar reclaimed the lead and built it to as much as 70-64 following a stickback by Rowe with 1:43 left in regulation, but Dacula still kept coming.
And trailing 74-71 following 1 of 2 free throws from Sanks with 16.9 seconds left, Moye kept them alive once more by draining a 3-pointer from the right wing with seven seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Once again, Berkmar tried to pull away, but couldn’t get enough of a cushion by missing key free throws.
And after Rowe hit just 1 of 2 with 10.1 seconds left, Dacula had one last shot.
This time, Moye’s game-tying attempt drew iron, and after Zentavious Cobb missed the stickback, Rowe pulled down the last of his game-high 13 rebounds to finally seal the win for the Patriots.
Kiair Crouch led Berkmar with 20 points, while Sanks added 19 points and six rebounds, Rowe had 18 points and seven blocked shots to add to his rebounding total and James Sanders chipped in 13 points and four assists.
Moye led all scorers with 24 points, while Keshawn Gibbs finished with 20 points and seven rebounds for the Falcons and Tucker had 18 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.