By Doug Gorman
It's hard to beat a team three times in one year.
That's a lesson the Riverdale Raiders learned the hard way Thursday night.
After beating East Coweta twice in the regular season, the Raiders couldn't pull of the trifecta against the Indians in the opening round of the Region 4-AAAAA tournament at Lovejoy.
The 51-43 loss put an end to the Raiders' season in what can only be described as a disappointing year.
Riverdale finished with an 8-18 overall record and a 6-13 mark in region play.
A year ago, Riverdale went two rounds into the state playoffs and finished the year with a 20-10 record.
"We are disappointed with the way things went this season," said Riverdale head coach Derrick Powell. "We have to learn from our mistakes and comeback next year and try to get things turned around."
Riverdale took itself out of contention against East Coweta with turnovers early in the game and the inability to put the ball in the basket.
East Coweta jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Julian Butler made the only shot from the field for the Raiders during the first period as the quarter ended with East Coweta out front 10-3.
Despite the loss, Riverdale never quit as it put together a couple of runs in both halves to keep the game close.
Thomas Jackson helped spark Riverdale's first-half comeback. With the Raiders trailing 14-5 midway through the second quarter, Jackson converted three straight baskets for the Raiders by turning East Coweta turnovers into points on the Riverdale half of the scoreboard.
His third basket during the offensive flurry, cut the Indians' lead to 14-11.
It was as close as the Raiders could get in the first half.
East Coweta pulled out to a 24-15 lead at the half thanks to the play of Madarius Gibbs.
With the Indians looking to find some offensive punch, they put the ball in the hands of the 5-9, junior and he delivered with a 3-point shot to give his team a 22-15 lead. Moments later, he added the last basket of the half as East Coweta went to the locker room with a nine-point lead.
The Indians opened the second half with a 9-4 run. Omayo Onakoya converted on a 3-point shot and then hit a two-point basket to help East Coweta to its biggest lead of the game at 33-19.
Riverdale wasn't about to pack it in.
The Raiders clawed their way back sparked by the play of Jackson, who continued to stay hot from the field, and finished with 19 points to lead Riverdale. Teammate Sateri Mercer also got into the act for the Raiders with a 3-point shot to cut the East Coweta lead to 39-32 heading into the final period.
Mercer finished the game with 10 points.
Mecer led the Raiders' fourth-quarter comeback with a couple of key baskets. His bucket late in the quarter cut the East Coweta lead to 41-38.
Riverdale had a chance to cut the lead to one when Mercer went to the line for free throws. After hitting on one-of-two attempts, the Indians lead was just 41-39.
It was as close as the Raiders got with their comeback.
"I can't complain about how hard we played this year," Powell said. "We never quit fighting, so I am proud of that."
East Coweta closed out the game with a 10-4 run to advance to second round against top-seed Westlake tonight at 8:30 p.m.
Looking ahead Only two local teams will be in action tonight at the Region 4-AAAAA tournament at Lovejoy. The Morrow girls take on Chapel Hill at 4 p.m. and the Morrow boys take on Creekside at 5:30.