By Jeffery Armstrong
ATLANTA - The Jonesboro Lady Cardinals used a balanced scoring attack and strong defensive play from guards Shad? Smith and Kala Smith to defeat the Stone Mountain Lady Pirates 52-44 and win the Region 5-AAAA girls basketball championship Saturday evening at South Atlanta High School. Stone Mountain (22-6) was the Region 5-AAAA East champions.
It was the second straight region tournament title for the Lady Cardinals (25-2), champions of Region 5-AAAA East. Last year, the Lady Cards won the Region 2-AAAAA tournament championship. Jonesboro will now host a first-round state playoff game next week.
"This is a huge accomplishment for us - we were in a very tough subregion and region. In fact, two East teams, North Atlanta and Southwest DeKalb, are great teams who won't play in state," said Jonesboro head coach John Kozvel. "To win back-to-back titles in two different regions is great. The girls have really worked hard to earn all this."
The game's tone was set early by the Smiths of Jonesboro. Shad?, the accomplished senior, was given the task of containing standout Stone Mountain junior guard Angelique Gray and Kala, the quick junior, had to stop Lady Pirates point guard Alex Ellison. Both players did a great job Saturday - Shad? held Gray without a field goal until the fourth quarter and Kala, with help from speedy reserve guards Latoya Jackson and Janae Crittenden, held Ellison scoreless until the final stanza. Gray's only points in the first 30 minutes of the game were from the free throw line.
"I just wanted to make sure Angelique wasn't going to beat us; the other players had to do it," Shad? Smith said. "I'm glad we won this game, but now we have to do well in state, which means getting past the Sweet 16."
Jonesboro's defense and the shot-blocking of Jasmine Duffey helped the Lady Cardinals get off to a quick start. At the end of the first quarter, Jonesboro led 10-5; Stone Mountain missed nine shots in the quarter. Duffey scored all eight of her points in the first half as the Lady Pirates had no answer inside for the 6-foot-6 junior. Duffey would've had 10 points, but she missed a dunk on a fast-break opportunity in the second quarter. Jonesboro, the No. 2 team in the state in Class AAAA, led 21-15 at the half.
"It feels real good to win this region. I knew we could do it because we've worked so hard all year," said Duffey, who also had six rebounds and eight blocks. "I knew Stone Mountain would be coming after me, but I did what I had to do to help us win."
Both teams didn't score much in the third quarter and Jonesboro led 30-23 heading into the fourth quarter. Ellison put a scare into Jonesboro minutes into the fourth with a 3-pointer and a free throw to cut the lead to 30-27 at the 6:00 mark. But Jonesboro stepped up on defense and went on a 6-0 run, highlighted by a rebound putback by Sheena Brown, to make the score 36-27 with 4:41 left. Jonesboro didn't trail again, as the team hit 16 of 20 free throws down the stretch.
"It's great to win back-to-back regions titles," said Brown. "It was tough, but we worked hard and won it. I'm happy."
"It feels good to win and hit all those free throws down the stretch," said Kala Smith. "We didn't rush our free throws like we did earlier."
Reserves Jawanda Duffey and LaTreace Johnson led Jonesboro's balanced attack with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Jawanda added eight rebounds as well. Gray led Stone Mountain with 15 points and Leslie Phillips scored 11.
In other Region 5-AAAA tournament games at South Atlanta Saturday, the North Clayton girls blew a 16-point halftime lead and lost to Mays 44-40 in the third-place game. The North Clayton boys lost another close game, falling to Southwest DeKalb 68-65 in their third-place game. Anthony Harvey led North Clayton with 20 points.
In the girls Region 2-AAAAA third-place game at Douglass High Saturday, Morrow defeated Riverdale 55-53. Morrow will face Starr's Mill in state playoff action Friday at 6 p.m.