Duluth’s Jazmyn Johnson (4) battles Mountain View’s Iceis Walker (24) for a rebound during girls high school basketball action Tuesday in the Region 7-AAAAAA tournament at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
SUWANEE — The Norcross girls basketball team doesn’t lose Region 7-AAAAAA games often, but Duluth has accomplished that feat twice already this season.
Now the Wildcats get a chance for No. 3.
Third-seeded Duluth defeated second-seeded Mountain View 59-54 in the Region 7-AAAAAA Tournament semifinals at Collins Hill, earning a shot at the top-seeded Blue Devils. Norcross reached today’s 6 p.m. final with a dominating defensive effort in a 47-29 win over Mill Creek.
The region finals appearance is a rarity for the Duluth girls, who have made state in each of Chad Pittman’s four seasons at head coach. But each of those years they’ve played in the region tourney consolation final for third place.
Now they get to play for a title.
“This is just another one for our checklist,” Pittman said. “Yesterday, it was that we made state. We’re in this thing. Today, we won and get to host a state game. That’s big for our school, our program and our community. We’ve got a few of them accomplished. Hopefully, we’re on our way to doing more things.”
Duluth (17-10) struggled somewhat in December, partly because of games with Archer, North Cobb and Hillgrove around Christmas, but has played its best basketball when the calendar turned to 2014. Those included the pair of victories over Norcross — 46-38 on Jan. 8 and 48-43 on Feb. 4.
The Wildcats earned a third matchup with Norcross thanks a clutch fourth quarter against Mountain View and solid defense over the final three quarters.
After the Bears made 6 of 10 shots to take a 17-10 lead after a quarter, they made just 13 of 50 field goals (26 percent) the rest of the way. Duluth’s defense, which included six Katie Powell blocks, played a big role in that.
Down by a point after three quarters, Duluth started the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run that included a big 3-pointer from freshman Bree Dixon. After Mountain View answered to tie, Dixon made two free throws with 1:24 left. But the Bears’ Iceis Walker followed with a steal and layup to tie the score with less than a minute left.
Duluth raced up court and another freshman, Endia Banks, nailed a jumper with 43 seconds left for a two-point edge. The Wildcats sealed it at the line in the closing seconds, the final two free throws coming from Dixon.
Dixon scored all seven of her points in the fourth and finished with four assists. Fellow freshman Banks had 17 points and three steals.
“They both have so much potential,” Pittman said of the two freshmen. “We knew that going into the summer and what they were able to do throughout the summer. … They kind of grew up (after the holiday tournaments). Since then, we really count on them. … They both did a really good job today because (Mountain View’s) pressure is relentless in the fullcourt and halfcourt, they’re just dogging you.”
Alyah McGriff led Duluth with 18 points and Katie Powell had 14 points and nine rebounds. Lea Petit had three points and five rebounds off the bench.
Mountain View (20-6) got 13 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals from Walker, 16 points from Aneysa Williams and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Jordan Stallworth. Reserve D’Andra Pringle added nine points.
Mountain View will face Mill Creek at 3 p.m. for third place, while Duluth gets a shot at defending state champion Norcross in the finals.
Norcross trailed Mill Creek 21-19 at halftime and 26-24 late in the third quarter. But the Blue Devils closed the game on a 23-3 run.
Mill Creek managed just eight points over the final two quarters, going nearly nine minutes without scoring at one point.
“We did a good job of tying it up on defense,” Norcross head coach Angie Hembree said. “We did a good job of really scrambling and finding the ball. It made it hard for Mill Creek to set up. They have such good 3-point shooters and they played really well (Monday) night. They just keep getting better and better.”
In a low-scoring game, Norcross took control with an 8-0 run to close the third quarter, with Kolby Meeks scored all six of her points during the flurry. The last six points came in the final 20 seconds, thanks to two of the Hawks’ eight, third-quarter turnovers.
The run turned to 17-0 slowly in the fourth quarter, stretching the lead to 41-26 before a Tatum Ragsdale 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining game Mill Creek its first points of the fourth. Ragsdale led Mill Creek with 11 points, while Ashley Gayle contributed six points and 11 rebounds.
Bri Williams led Norcross with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Freshman Tylia Gillespie had nine points off the bench as the Blue Devils completed a season sweep of Mill Creek.
Now the challenge is to avoid being swept by Duluth.
“They beat us twice and we match up really well with each other,” Hembree said of her team and Duluth. “They’ve been playing well. I don’t know. … Chad does a great job. We’ll see what happens. I know he’s tickled to death to be in the finals and I am, too.”