By Jeffery Armstrong
The first round of the Region 5-AAAA East subregion took place Thursday afternoon at Mt. Zion High and two of the three Clayton County teams have been eliminated from play, ending their seasons. The Mt. Zion Bulldogs boys team defeated county rival Jonesboro and the Mt. Zion girls have been eliminated, one season removed from having played in the Class AAAAA state final four.
Mt. Zion 45, Jonesboro 41 (boys): The Mt. Zion Bulldogs overcame a scoring drought in the first quarter to come back and defeat the Jonesboro Cardinals in the first round of the 5-AAAA East tournament Thursday evening, ending the Cardinals' season. Teams in the subregion tourney must win two games to qualify for the overall Region 5-AAAA tournament next week and a spot in the upcoming state playoffs.
"It feels good for me as a senior to see us have a chance to move on and get a shot at making state," said Bulldogs forward Montavious Jackson, who led all scorers with 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. "I'm also glad for the young guys on the team - a good run in this tournament will only help them down the road."
Mt. Zion (8-18) ended a long losing streak by racing to a 32-23 lead after three quarters, holding the young Cardinals to only 11 points combined in the second and third quarters. In the fourth quarter, Mt. Zion led 40-30 with over 5:00 remaining before Jonesboro made a run to get back in the game. Harry Nutter got a friendly bounce on a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 40-33 and back-to-back baskets by Hendrick Clark and Brandon Lucas got Jonesboro within three at 40-37 with 2:25 left. The Bulldogs put the game away after that. Derek Slaughter (12 points, six rebounds) made a free throw and missed the second one, but Jackson got the rebound and the layup for a 43-37 lead with less than a minute remaining. Mt. Zion sank free throws to finish the game and end Jonesboro's year.
Now, Mt. Zion must face the Southwest DeKalb Panthers, the No. 1 seed in the subregion tourney, tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Jonesboro High to secure a spot in the state playoffs. SWD swept the season series from Mt. Zion, but Slaughter said the team is looking forward to playing them again.
"We lost to them and they're a good team, but the pressure is on them now. They are the No. 1 seed so they're expected to win," Slaughter said. "We've played them tough the last time we met and now it's for a trip to state. We just have to come out and play hard."
"We just have to play two good halves against them," Jackson said. "If we do that, we can win."
North Atlanta 65, Mt. Zion 41 (girls): Mt. Zion fell behind early and couldn't catch up, falling to the 10th-ranked North Atlanta Lady Warriors Thursday night, ending their season. North Atlanta (21-6) led 35-15 at the half and rolled to the big victory, setting up a huge second-round showdown with No. 1 seed Jonesboro tonight at 7 p.m. at Jonesboro High for a spot in the state playoffs. Jonesboro, the No. 2 team in Class AAAA, had a first-round bye.