Stockbridge's boys basketball team's emergence in Region 4-AAAA and run into the state tournament last season was largely free of the burden of expectations from outside sources. But that was before it had a reigning player of the year and legitimate Division I prospect, before a state ranking once prognosticators awakened to the Tigers' talent.
Those elements exist now for eighth-ranked Stockbridge and surely affect the way its opponents prepare for and play against them. Mt. Zion gave the Tigers a blunt reminder of that Friday night.
Down 14 in the third quarter, Stockbridge increased its defensive intensity and forced a flurry of turnovers that allowed the Tigers to escape with a 71-67 victory at home in a Region 4-AAAA game.
"We've got a bull's-eye right now, especially in our region," Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley said. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. But this is what we wanted. This was our goal, to try to build a program that was considered to be one of the state's best.
"So, be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. We know that, and if we didn't know that, we learned that tonight."
Mt. Zion (3-2, 0-2) successfully neutralized Stockbridge star guard Chris Davis (22 points) for much of the game utilizing a Box-and-1, a defense specifically designed to shut down a team's best scorer. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs built a 51-37 lead at the 1:50 mark in the third quarter.
So it was left to others to provide a spark for Stockbridge (3-1, 2-0).
Dante Campbell (19 points) began the comeback with a 3. Demarcus Robinson (nine points) continued it with a 3 deep in the corner and then converted a fastbreak layup. Thus began an 18-0 run by Stockbridge that put the Tigers up 55-51 with just over five minutes left in the game.
"We just kept up on the defensive end and we knew that's what we had to do in order to be successful," Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley said. "I like to say we just keep sawing wood."
Steve Wilson led Mt. Zion with 15 points, while Jarrell King added 13.
Stockbridge girls 53, Mt. Zion 27
As the turnovers began to mount for Mt. Zion, so did Stockbridge's lead. More than 30 times the Lady Bulldogs turned it over, partially a symptom of its inexperience and partially of Stockbridge's strong defensive effort.
The Lady Tigers (2-1, 2-0 Region 4-AAAA) earned its second straight victory thanks to 16 steals and outrebounding Mt. Zion, 46-32.
Amari Moreland led Stockbridge with 16 points and seven rebounds. Arielle Johnson added 10 points and five rebounds. Seven Lady Tigers scored in all.
Mt. Zion (2-4, 0-2) struggled after Dominique Givance fouled out with 5:25 left in the third quarter. She left the game after scoring just two points.
Jasmine Manning led the Lady Bulldogs with nine points. Camille Hankerson added eight points and grabbed 13 rebounds.