By Zack Huffman
DULUTH -- Last night a miracle almost took place.
Jonesboro's David came one rock short of vanquishing Fayette County's Goliath in last night's Final Four match up at the Gwinnett Arena, 43-41.
The ladies of Jonesboro jumped out of the first half with a 16-point hole. Two quarters later, they came just three-points shy of toppling the Lady Tigers, who came into the game ranked 14th in the nation by USA Today.
"We went down fighting, that's for sure," said coach Jimmy Fields. "My girls didn't quit and that's what I'm proud."
After switching from man-to-man defense in the first half to a zone defense in the second, Jonesboro was able to rejuvenate their chances by holding the Lady Tigers to just 12 points in the second half.
Jonesboro's first lead in the game was fast approaching, but so was the final buzzer. With seconds left and a chance the tie up the game, what was almost an offensive rebound from Chanee Key turned into a pile up and Fayette County was awarded the jump ball.
The Lady Tigers only had to casually dribble the ball down the court for a few seconds to punch their ticket to return to the state championship game and that is exactly what they did.
"I was looking to attack the basket so we could get a foul," said Fields. "I couldn't call a timeout, but I wanted Drameka or Joi to get to the rim so maybe we could get a foul or a three-point play."
Unfortunately for Fields and his squad, Jonesboro was unable to get the shot and the Lady Cardinals' historic first Final Four appearance came to its heartbreaking conclusion.
"I just feel bad for the seniors. I felt like we had a whole lot on ours shoulders," said Fields. "The girls wanted to win it. Not only for Jonesboro but also for Clayton County."
The bulk of Jonesboro's scoring and stealing was shared between Joi Holyfield and Drameka Griggs.
Holyfield led with 16 points and two steals to Griggs' 15 points three steals.
Sharmesia Smith grabbed the most rebounds among the Lady Cardinals with eight boards, while Kayla Dowdell grabbed five.
It would come as no surprise if the many Jonesboro fans in attendance found themselves cursing the name Anma Onyeuku on their long drive home.
The Fayette County junior served as the crux to the Lady Tigers' success with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Fayette County launched the opening salvo, with a six-point run that was only broken when Griggs was sent to the charity stripe where she put Jonesboro's first point on the board with a single successful free throw.
By the end of the first quarter, Fayette County had taken a 12-5 lead.
The second quarter did not go much better for the Lady Cardinals. Although their scoring picked up, they were unable to match up with Fayette County's post play.
When the first half was over, 31-15 glared on the scoreboard with Fayette County in the lead.
"It took a team effort. I'm pretty sure everybody thought we were just going to lay down and die at the half time," said Fields. "My biggest thing was I didn't want to yell and fuss at them. I said 'we cannot fall apart.' My goal going into the fourth quarter was to be down by just single digits."
Despite the seemingly insurmountable task ahead of them, the Lady Cardinals exploded into the second half, pouring 14 points into their deficit while holding Fayette County to just four, leaving with the Lady Tigers with a significantly less-comfortable 35-30 lead with eight minutes left in the game.
In the final quarter, as the Lady Tigers attempted to slow the game with a meandering perimeter offense, Jonesboro stayed steady.
Holyfield brought the game to its first tie-score at 39-39 with a jumpshot from the baseline with 3:21 left in the game.
Fields was forced to use his final timeout with a minute still remaining in the game in order maintain possession of the ball and Jonesboro's momentum.
Fayette County had since slipped ahead 43-41, leaving the Lady Cardinals in need of an outside shot for the win or any other shot for overtime.
The shot never came and thus concluded Jonesboro's stunning 30-2 season.