CJ Johnson (#4) gets off a shot over Sandy Creek’s Dale Earhart.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
When the state's high school sports regions were reconfigured prior to this season, it set the stage for an exciting matchup of two top girls basketball teams in Sandy Creek and Fayette County. This year's meeting did not disappoint as the teams battled it out before the Tigers pulled away for a 60-49 victory.
The game pitted two of the state's finest girls basketball teams. The AJC has Fayette County and Sandy Creek ranked numbers six and eight respectively in AAAA. It was also a battle for region supremacy with the Tigers now sporting a flawless 7-0 mark (12-3 overall) and the Patriots right behind at 6-2 (15-4 overall).
The win is a big one for Fayette County as they prepare for the stretch drive into the postseason. "It's good to get a win against a county rival," said Tiger head coach John Strickland. "They've got a great team at Sandy Creek. They fought hard. We fought hard as well and came out on top this time."
Sandy Creek's offense started out fast, keeping just out in front of Fayette in a back-and-forth affair. Sydney Jarmon started the Patriots off with a three. Recee Walker got to the hoop for a pair of buckets and a three from Minnae Harris staked the Patriots to a 11-8 lead after the first quarter.
The Patriots kept up the pressure in the second frame, highlighted by Walker's beautiful scoop shot early on. Jarmon added two baskets to keep her team in front by one. Courtney Street's steal and two helped put the Patriots out in front 25-21 going into halftime.
The second half belonged to the Tigers. The long range shots started falling with regularity and the defense ratcheted up the intensity.
"We went in at halftime and said let's reestablish ourselves," Strickland said. "Take your time. Don't be in a rush. Get back to doing what we do and we'll be okay."
Fayette's Aneesa Watson and Kayla Smith heated up after halftime, both hitting threes to put the Tigers ahead 43-36 after three quarters.
Great things are always expected of Watson, and she did not disappoint with 22 points, but Smith was an especially pleasant surprise, scoring 17 points with five three pointers.
"She was shooting hot," said Stricking. "They got their defense up on (Keyondra) Jenkins and Watson and Smith got loose a little bit on them."
Smith, Watson, and Whitney Williams scored early in the fourth to cap off a 14-2 run to put away the Patriots. Jasmine Jones came on late for Sandy Creek, scoring five of her eight points in the waning minutes.
Watson led all scorers with her 22, followed by Smith's 17 and 13 by Keyondra Jenkins. Sydney Jarmon led Sandy Creek with 10 points, followedy by nine points each from Courtney Street and Recee Walker.
The Fayette County boys came into their game and took it out on Sandy Creek, winning 65-50.
The Tigers had lost three straight games, including two in a row to region foes, before the Patriots came to town. For a brief time, a sluggish start made it look like Fayette was headed for another loss. They weren't about to let that happen.
"I think we're coming around," said Tigers head coach Andre Flynn. "Sandy Creek presented us some challenges. I'm just proud of our team. That's one of our better games that we've played so far so I'm pleased. Being able to get this one against a crosstown rival is good."
Sandy Creek started out hot, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on a three pointer and a three point play from Brandon Lindsey and a bucket by Ravion Bell. Fayette County clawed back to tie the game at 10-10 with three minutes left in the frame on a slick spin and score by CJ Johnson. Creek's Janauri Smith and Fayette's Clark Minnifield exchanged threes before Kelvin King's drive and bank put the Tigers up 16-13 at the end of the quarter.
The first half of the second quarter continued the back-and-forth swings. Brandon Lindsey started it off with a three to tie the game back up before King scored four straight to put the Tigers ahead again. A beautiful feed from Ravion Bell to Dale Earhart pulled the Patriots to within 24-22 before the Tigers went on a tear.
Fayette County's offense lit up and their defense locked down for a 10-0 run before the half. Donovan Culver’s basket with contact and a three from CJ Johnson helped key the attack. A Sandy Creek three from Ravion Bell helped trim the deficit back to 34-25 at halftime.
The Tiger defense would be key in getting their team back out to a comfortable lead. From midway through the second quarter until the end of the third, the Tigers allowed just 13 points.
"They've got some good outside shooters. We had to make sure we knew where they were," Flynn said of slowing down the Patriots. "We had to shade to them and help each other out. That's team basketball. I'm very pleased with how we adjusted and the job we did rebounding."
Clark Minnifield was the key out of the gates in the second half, swiping the ball three straight times and scoring to put himself on a personal 6-0 run over the Patriots. Sandy Creek kept it closer with the deep shot, getting a pair of threes from Brandon Lindsey and one by Ronald Bell. Chaz Berry's own three ball help keep the Tigers out in front 52-35 heading into the final frame.
Sandy Creek started off the fourth right, trimming the lead back a bit and doing it with style. The Patriots opened the scoring with a dish from Janauri Smith to Dale Earhart that he slammed home for a two handed dunk. A three from Lindsey and a jumper by Smith trimmed the margin to 55-44 before the Tigers took back over.
CJ Johnson pulled a flashy behind the back dribble and bucket to make it a 15 point lead and a Dante' Sterling block led to a Kelvin King coast to coast layup to cap off the 65-50 Fayette win.
Johnson led the Tigers with 19 points on the night, followed by 13 from Clark Minnifield and 10 by Kelvin King. Sandy Creek's Brandon Lindsey led all scorers with 23.
The win bumps the Tigers' record to 10-7 on the season. The two teams will meet again on Saturday, February 9 in the regular season finale.