By Jeffery Armstrong
MACON - The Riverdale Lady Raiders' 58-52 loss to the Stephenson Lady Jaguars Saturday night in the Class AAAAA state basketball tournament quarterfinals at the Centreplex marked a disturbing trend for the Riverdale girls team.
For the second straight season, Riverdale lost in this gym after a convincing win in the previous round of tournament play here.
Riverdale (20-8) fell to Region 2-AAAAA opponent Stephenson in Elite 8 action Saturday after wiping out Glynn Academy 62-46 one day earlier in the Sweet 16. Last season in Macon, Riverdale beat Houston County 54-46 in the Sweet 16 and then lost the next day to Clayton County rival Mt. Zion 52-42 in the Elite 8.
Defending state champion Stephenson advances to the state Final Four next week.
Both teams split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home.
"It's disappointing not to make the Final Four, but I'm proud of what these girls accomplished, especially in as tough a region as Region 2-AAAAA is," Riverdale head coach Derick Powell said. "I really believe we overachieved this year. We had two freshmen in the starting lineup along with three veteran players - the girls played so much better than we coaches expected this season."
Riverdale got off to a quick start Saturday night.
The Lady Raiders sprinted to an 11-3 lead with 2:52 left in the quarter, a run which included a rare 3-pointer from Riverdale forward Shalondan Hollingshed. Riverdale led 13-5 before Stephenson reserve forward Jylisa Williams helped spark a 7-0 Lady Jags run, cutting Riverdale's lead to 13-12 with 1:06 left. Riverdale then went on a 4-0 run to lead 17-12 after one period.
Stephenson reserve guard Kirstyn Wright helped get the Lady Jags back in the game in the second quarter, scoring six points.
The Lady Jags tied the game at 24 and then took a one-point lead, 25-24, with 3:40 left in the first half. Riverdale freshman center Laura Broomfield then converted a three-point play seconds later to give the Lady Raiders the lead back at 27-25. The game was tied at 29 at the half.
The wheels fell off for Riverdale in the third quarter. The Lady Raiders missed their first seven shots of the quarter and fell behind 36-29 at the 5:11 mark. Riverdale got within three, 36-33, minutes later but fell behind 45-35 heading into the fourth quarter. The Lady Raiders only scored six third-quarter points.
Early in the final quarter, Stephenson got a steal and layup by Jasmine Smith to take a 47-35 lead and looked to put the game away. But Riverdale didn't give up - Hollingshed, Broomfield and guard Sasha Simmons scored three straight baskets to cut the lead to 47-41 with 4:55 left in the game. Riverdale had several chances to get even closer, but they either missed shots, missed free throws or turned the ball over.
Riverdale did cut the lead to 54-52 with 30 seconds left, but Stephenson made its free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Stephenson hit 16 of 26 free throws in the game while Riverdale went 11 of 22 from the charity stripe.
Smith led Stephenson with 23 points and Wright added 12. Broomfield led Riverdale with 14 points, followed by Simmons with 12 and Hollingshed with 11.