LaRice Walker was huge for Sandy Creek, scoring 12 of her 20 points during a third quarter explosion.
The Redan Raiders looked unbeatable. They had carved out a path to the state championship. They hadn't played a team like the Sandy Creek Patriots. The Lady Patriots went on the road up to Stone Mountain and brought back a monumental 50-47 victory.
Sandy Creek has been left carrying the flag for Fayette. They are making us all proud. Their win advances the team to the state's Final Four. The Patriots will now face Mary Persons at Ft. Valley State today at 4 p.m. with the winner punching a ticket to the state title game.
The Redan Raiders had been picking up buzz as a possible state champ after running through the season with a 23-2 record and then winning their first playoff games 73-43 and 70-40, the second against Fayette County. Sandy Creek didn't care. They don't need their own clippings. They believe in each other.
"We do what we do and we can beat anyone in the state," beamed head coach Cedric King after the game. "That's what we believe. We do what we do, we're good."
The Patriots have been strong all year. The win bumped their record up to 24-6 for the season. Everyone on the outside could tell it was a great team, but within the locker room Sandy Creek knew they could be special.
"We expected it. We knew it from the get go. That's what we believe," said King. "
For a school known for winning state championships in recent years, Sandy Creek is now welcoming their girls basketball team to the ranks of the elite. This is the first trip to the semifinals for the Lady Patriots and only the second in the history of the Sandy Creek basketball program.
"This is huge for the whole school," King said.
For Sandy Creek, the win came down to heart, grit, and tenacity. The Patriots knew they were getting a major opponent with a lot of firepower and they would need a tremendous defensive effort. They got everything they needed. Redan had scored 60 or more points in 21 of 28 games and only dipped below two times prior to the Elite Eight matchup. The Lady Patriots held them to just 47 points.
Asked how they won the game, there was an easy response. "All heart," said King. "It was a team effort. We knew we could do it."
The key to the game plan? "Defense, baby, defense."
Redan controlled the lead in the early going. A stop and pop by Chloe Branch and a banked three pointer by Minnae Harris kept the Patriots within 13-6 at the end of the first quarter. A Jasmine Jones drive and an Allie Warren bucket sliced the deficit to two points. Sydney Jarmon's trey would help keep the scored tied before LaRice Walker gave the Patriots their first lead at 20-18. Redan would grab a 22-20 lead heading into halftime with a buzzer beater. It would be their last lead of the game.
Whatever was said in the lockeroom at halftime, it worked wonders. Sandy Creek came out in the second half with a fury. LaRice Walker was red hot, first feeding Safiya Martin for an open jumper and then scoring 10 straight points herself to make it a 32-25 lead.
The Patriots ball movement was excellent as Jasmine Jones twice fed Courtney Street for open shots while Martin picked up another off a Chloe Branch dish. Jasmine Jones got a big shot of her own, sinking a three to make it 43-30 after three quarters.
The third quarter was clearly the key to the game as the Patriots outscored the Raiders 21-6 through most of the frame. Walker did the bulk of the work, scoring 12 of her game-high 20 points during the third.
Redan was angry and desperate for a comeback in the final quarter. They fought hard, but did not quite have the ammunition to pass the Patriots even as the referees allowed them to ratchet up the physicality. Sandy Creek got the timely shots they needed to hold off the charge. Chloe Branch sank a pair of free throws with under two minutes left to keep the lead at eight points. With the lead all the way down to two points, LaRice Walker missed a big free throw, but got it back with a huge rebound on the defensive end. She would sink her next free throw with just six seconds remaining to make it a three point game. Redan could not get off a desperation heave as Jasmine Jones was able to slip in and deflect the inbounds pass, letting the clock run out.
The Sandy Creek bench exploded in celebration for their milestone victory. They have now reached the Final Four for the first time, but they're not ready to stop yet. Bring on Mary Persons.