By Derrick Mahone
After his team finished its final practice Wednesday in preparation for the Region 4-AAAA tournament, North Clayton girls' coach Kimleon Turner text himself a message that was scheduled to go off Thursday after his team's game against Jonesboro.
The note read: "Congrats! How about that, North Clayton girls are going to the state playoffs."
With his team's 49-43 win over Jonesboro in the region tournament quarterfinals secured Thursday, Turner checked the message while sitting in the stands as he showed another spectator.
"I already had in my mind that we were going to win," Turner said.
With the win, the Eagles advance to next week's state playoffs after missing the postseason the last two years. North Clayton takes on Dutchtown tonight at 7 p.m. in the semifinals at Mount Zion High.
"We were in a two year exile from the state playoffs," Turner said. "It is a tradition at North Clayton to go to the playoffs, and that is our standard. The last two years, we didn't meet those standards. We set our goal on that every year."
Jonesboro, a state semifinalist last season, finished the season at 11-15 under first-year coach Michale House. On Tuesday, the Jonesboro boys' were eliminated by Ola season, which is making its first state playoff appearance in the school's four-year history.
"Overall, this was a good learning experience for a team with a new coach," said House, who led Cedar Shoals to the postseason last season. "It has been a season of a lot of growth for us. It would have been really nice if we had made the playoffs with a young team. We just wasn't the better team tonight. We didn't bring everything we had."
Jonesboro rallied from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with 2:16 remaining to get back into the game. North Clayton was able to hit some key baskets down the stretch to climb back into the game after trailing 42-32 with 2:16 remaining.
"After two years of not going to the playoffs, I'm extremely happy," said junior center Miranda Cantrell, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Eagles were led by Destiny Tejada, who had 16 points and seven rebounds.
North Clayton was swept by Dutchtown, the regular season region champion, during the season by a total of eight points.
Turner said he is hoping to catch Dutchtown overlooking his squad.
"I don't think they are over confidence, but its tough to beat a team three times in a season," Turner said. "I know what to expect. I know they want to run. We are not going to get it to them."
Stockbridge (boys) 55, Alcovy 49: After stumbling down the stretch of the season by losing eight of its last 11 games, the Tigers recovered in time to make the state playoffs.
Tigers guard Chris Davis had 21 points and Donte Campbell finished with 11 as they advance to tonight's semifinals against regular-season champion North Clayton at 8:30 p.m. North Clayton won the regular season series.
Alcovy was led by Devon Edwards, who had 20 points, including nine as the Tigers mounted a late fourth-quarter rally.
Stockbridge led 45-35 with four minutes to play, but Alcovy was able to cut into the lead with free throws and forcing several Tigers' turnovers.
"We didn't let them back in the game, they fought the entire game," Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley said. "Alcovy is a playoff tested team. We weren't able to sustain the big lead, but we were able to do enough to hold on for the win."
Stockbridge will have to keep its composure if they want a shot at knocking off North Clayton, which had bye into the semifinals.
"We had a little lapse at the end of the game," Davis said. "We have been waiting on a rematch with North Clayton."
Forest Park (girls) 48, Alcovy 41: Sophomore Ashlee Cole scored 16 points and teammate Jessica Anderson added 10 as the Panthers advanced to Saturday's region championship game.
Forest Park will play the winner of tonight's North Clayton vs. Dutchtown game for the championship. The loser will play Alcovy in the third place game. With the win, Forest Park is assured of a first round state playoff game.
The highlight of the Panthers' game was when Cole hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to end the first quarter with her team holding a 14-8 lead.
Dutchtown (boys) 61, Ola 53: The Bulldogs, who will be making their first state playoff appearance next week, will get a chance to host an opening round game after Thursday's victory over county rival. It was the third time this season that Dutchtown has beaten Ola, which will also be making its first-ever state playoff appearance. Dutchtown will play the winner of tonight's Stockbridge vs. North Clayton game Saturday in the region finals. Ola will play the loser in Saturday's third place game.