BISHOPVILLE -- It's rare for both the varsity boys and girls basketball teams at any given school to be undefeated in region play after five games. It's even more rare when it happens to two schools in the same region - and they get to face one …
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BISHOPVILLE -- It's rare for both the varsity boys and girls basketball teams at any given school to be undefeated in region play after five games. It's even more rare when it happens to two schools in the same region - and they get to face one another.
That was the case, however, when Andrew Jackson High School visited Lee Central for a pair of key Region IV-2A games between four ranked teams that were all 5-0 in region play on Tuesday.
By the end of the night, only Andrew Jackson's girls and Lee Central's boys kept their perfect records in tact.
AJ's girls beat Lee Central 47-37 in the first game of the doubleheader, dropping the Lady Stallions to 10-5 overall and 5-1 in region play.
"They are a very tough team," said Lee Central head coach Patrice Holmes. "We knew coming in that they were going to be scrappy, and that it was going to be hard for us."
The Lady Volunteers jumped out to an early 10-5 lead, but LC clawed back with a basket in the final seconds of the first quarter to tie the game at 13-13. The two teams traded baskets in the second quarter with seven lead changes in that quarter alone. AJ finished on top at the half 29-25, scoring four points in the final 35 seconds.
The Lady Stallions cut the deficit to just one point at 35-34 heading into the third quarter, but that's when turnovers, missed shots and some arguably poor officiating allowed AJ to pull away for the victory.
"It was (frustrating)," said Holmes. "I thought the refs missed a few calls. I'm not going to blame it all on the refs though. I thought we didn't do a lot of things correctly as well. It was just a rough night...I think we got a little frustrated."
Frustrated is certainly the best word to use to describe the Lee Central fans that packed the LCHS gymnasium after officials failed to call fouls on several plays in the paint that could've sent Lee Central to the free throw line.
The Lady Stallions' defense did its job, forcing AJ to commit multiple turnovers, but the offense just couldn't close the deficit.
"Our trap worked, but we just didn't really convert on it when we got the steals," said Holmes. "Then we made some silly fouls and that really cost us. We knew we needed that game because we were tied for first in the conference, so we know we can't lose any more. If we want to win the conference we have to take care of business from here on out."
Senior TaShanna Harris notched a double-double in the loss with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four steals.
Lee Central's boys won 64-57 behind 16 points apiece from junior guard DaVeon Thomas and senior forward Darius Perry. Thomas is now just 10 points shy of 1,000 for his career. Assuming he reaches the mark in Friday's road game at Central, the team will hold a ceremony at their next home game on Tuesday against Chesterfield.
The Stallions came to play on Tuesday, jumping out to an early 18-2 lead thanks to their aggressive, full-court pressing defensive style led by senior forward Delonzo Perkins.
Perkins acted as the first line of defense, contesting each of AJ's inbound passes with his long wingspan and endless, infectious energy.
"(Delonzo) is 6-3, and he has those long limbs; that's why we put him up at the top -- to cause havoc," said Lee Central head coach Xavier Harry, whose team improved to 17-3 overall and 6-0 in region play. "He's one of the smartest players on the team both on the floor and in the classroom. I know he knows what to do when he's up there, and that's a very important piece when you're running a diamond-and-one press."
Despite the big lead, the Volunteers made a run, cutting the Stallions deficit to 20-11 by the end of the first quarter, and then 26-24 with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter.
"The press got us out to a strong start, but then we started being lazy and reaching in, and it got us in foul trouble," said Harry. "We had to come out of the press and play more zone in the second half. We were also allowing them to get transition baskets. So we had to adjust in the second half and go to more zone."
Lee Central responded with a run of its own, stretching the lead back to 49-35 by the end of the third quarter.
The Volunteers managed to cut the lead to just six at 53-47 with 4:17 remaining, but the Stallions held on for the big region win.
"Hats off to AJ," said Harry. "They're a very scrappy, talented team. We knew they were going to come in ready to play. They're coming off a state 2A runner-up, so I knew they weren't going to stop fighting. We just had to be able to weather the storm, have poise and be able to handle the runs because that's what basketball is; it's a game of runs."
The victory puts the Stallions in control of their own destiny for the rest of region play. LC has won their six Region 2A-IV contests by an average margin of victory of 30.17 points per game. If they're able to keep that up for the next six games they'll have home court advantage for much of the 2A state playoffs.
"I told our boys before we started that these region games are very important," said Harry. "The first playoff games will be at Lee Central, so it's very important we win the region and take care of home court advantage and solidify that."
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