The McEachern Indians and the Norcross Blue Devils were meeting for the second time this season with a ticket to the 5A championship game in the balance. Both programs garner national attention with rosters loaded with Division-I talent and national rankings. McEachern is ranked No.2 in the ESPN Powerade Fab 50 and No.3 in the USA Today Super 25 while Norcross is ranked No.22 in the ESPN Powerade Fab 50. McEachern came from behind to defeat Norcross 55-43 in the season opener for both teams at Norcross in what was a rematch of the 2011 5A State Championship game.
The Lady Indians jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead in the first quarter but had to sustain a furious Norcross rally in the fourth quarter to advance. McEachern, who never trailed in the game, led 57-55 when Syracuse bound Pachiyaanna Roberts would get an And 1 to push the Indians lead back to five at 60-55 with 1:31 remaining in the game.
McEachern led 64-61 with less than 30 seconds remaining and possession of the ball turned it over in the backcourt when Te’a Cooper lost the ball out-of-bounds off of her leg giving Norcross life. Norcross’ Diamond Deshields, who was held scoreless in the first half, missed a three pointer with McEachern taking over but again would turn the ball over with 6.4 seconds left in the backcourt. Norcross would get another shot but Shayla Cooper’s three-point attempt was blocked by Pachiyaanna Roberts and McEachern would take over with .6 seconds remaining and simply inbound the ball to secure their second consecutive appearance in the sate championship game.
McEachern (32-0) was led by Arkansas signee Dominique Wilson who finished with 21 points, North Carolina signee Te’A Cooper finished with 18 points and Syracuse bound Pachiyaanna Roberts had 11 points. McEachern used the long ball to their advantage throughout the game nailing seven three-pointers in the contest . Norcross (26-6) was led by Shayla Cooper’s 18 points (12 in the first half), Tori Carter had 14, Jasmine Kemp scored 10 of her 12 in the fourth quarter and Diamond DeShields finished with 9 points (6 in the fourth quarter) which was 13 points below her season average of 22 per game.
McEachern will face their crosstown and Region 4-5A rival the Hillgrove Hawks (26-4) in the 5A Championship game. Hillgrove defeated North Gwinnett (26-4) 56-51 to advance. The Hawks were led in scoring by sophomore Mackenzie Engram who finished with 20 points and got 15 from Wake Forest signee Celina Rodrigo. Rodrigo would go 9-11 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game to preserve the win for Hillgrove. North Gwinnett, which entered the game ranked No. 35 in the ESPN Powerade Fab 50, was led by Lexie Brown, a Maryland signee, with 25 points while Peyton Whitted tallied 19 points.
McEachern and Hillgrove are both Cobb County schools located in Powder Springs, Ga and this will be their fourth meeting this season, the latest coming in the Region 4-5A championship game. The average margin of victory in those three games was 23 points. Three of Hillgrove’s four losses this season have come at the hands of region foe and crosstown rival McEachern. Hillgrove’s only other loss this season was to Lovett (27-5) who will be playing in the Class 2A championship game against Buford (25-7). McEachern defeated Buford during a pre-season scrimmage this season by 30 plus points. Since moving up to the 5A Classification in 2011 Hillgrove has never defeated McEachern as the Lady Indians have defeated the Lady Hawks six consecutive times including a 56-53 lost in the Elite Eight last season.
The 5A championship game will also mark the end of an era as Hillgrove head coach Sheryl Fowler will be retiring at season’s end. Fowler has been the head coach at Hillgrove since the school opened six years ago and coached at McEachern for 16 years prior to taking the post at Hillgrove. Phyliss Arthur is in her sixth season at McEachern, taking over for Fowler and previously coached at Pebblebrook. Fowler is 131-42 in her six seasons at Hillgrove and Arthur is 145-35 in her six seasons at McEachern.