By Zack Huffman
FORT VALLEY -- The blowout was unmistakable. With 60-40 on the board and the final clock showing 0:00, the GHSA quarterfinals match up between the ladies of Jonesboro and Hepzibah was over.
Coach Jimmy Fields addressed his beloved Lady Cardinals in the locker room as tears ran down their cheeks. They were unable to control the surge of emotion that accompanied their making history Friday night by being the first girls basketball team in school history to earn a trip to the Final Four.
"I'm so excited for the girls," said Fields as he attempted to collect his thoughts immediately following the win. "Clayton County has been through a lot. We lost accreditation, we lost players and we still won 30 games. I've just seen them break down and cry after the win. That shows it meant a whole lot to these kids."
Almost from the beginning, the Lady Cardinals displayed the talent of a legitimate contender for the state crown.
Holyfield was the sharp shooter of the evening, leading the way in scoring with 19 points, including five from behind the arc.
Drameka Griggs dominated from the inside, leading in rebounds and steals with seven and four, respectively and coming in second with 15 points and five assists.
"Personally, I believe Griggs and Holyfield are the two best guards in the state," said Fields.
Sharmesia Smith was the third Lady Cardinal with double-digit scoring, having contributed 12 points to the scoreboard.
LaQuinta Gallishaw lead in assists with eight, while matching Griggs' four steals, as Chenne Key matched Griggs' seven boards.
It is not uncommon for even the best of teams to have at least one bad quarter in any given match up. The Lady Cardinals got theirs out of the way in the first eight minutes of the game.
Hepzibah took the early advantage, building a 17-11 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Jonesboro made a slow start as Hepzibah consistently grabbed defensive rebounds.
"I was undecided on whether I would play 3-2 zone or a man-to-man," said Fields. "I didn't want to go man-to-man at first because I didn't want to get my girls in foul trouble."
By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Lady Cardinals took off, capturing control of the game with about two minutes left in the first half.
Once Jonesboro got its defense off the ground, Hepzibah's hopes plummeted. They found themselves unable to score more than eight points per quarter past the first period.
The Lady Cardinals entered the second half with a slim four-point lead. Before Hepzibah could mount an answer, Jonesboro began pouring in the shots, extending its lead to 44-33 in time for the final quarter.
"For that second half we played man defense and that's what made the difference," said Fields. "I don't think they could handle our man-to-man full court push."
In the fourth, Jonesboro slowed down the tempo, but still managed to score 16 points to Hepzibah's 7.
Holyfield's put a last-second long-distance exclamation point on Jonesboro's win, pushing the final score to a commanding 60-40 victory for the Lady Cardinals.
"We wanted to send a message. The girls feel they have been disrespected all year," said Fields. "Nobody knows about us outside of Clayton County."
Holyfield's knockout blow to an opponent that was already down made a clear statement on behalf of the Lady Cardinals:
Jonesboro is not to be underestimated.