By Brian Paglia
As they sat on the bench for the final minutes of the third quarter, Eagle's Landing's understood. They had given up too many points to Stockbridge and in the process surrendered a double-digit lead.
"We knew we were pulled to the bench because we weren't playing the way we should," Eagle's Landing sophomore Isaiah Dennis said. "We knew we had to come back out on fire, play well and finish the game strong."
That they did, seizing control early in the fourth quarter with a pressure defense that produced key turnovers and feeding sophomore center Desmond Ringer inside to pull out a 70-64 win over the Tigers at home Tuesday in a Region 4-AAA contest.
The win pulled Eagle's Landing (9-2, 4-2 Region 4-AAA) into a tie for third place in the region with Stockbridge (6-4, 4-2) and just a half-game back from Drew, who lost to first-place Henry County.
Perhaps more significantly, the win extended the Golden Eagles' win streak to seven games and maintained the momentum built over the holiday after winning the Chuck Miller Classic against Henry County.
"The holiday break in basketball is pretty unique. Most other sports don't break up like that," Eagle's Landing coach Clay Crump said. "You never know how your team's going to come out or how the other team's going to come out, so it's good to re-establish any momentum that you built before the break."
Ringer had a team-high 16 points with five rebounds, two assists and a block. Dennis continued his strong play after being elevated into a starting role with 15 points, while senior Aaron Horton added 13 points and four assists.
Dennis converted an alley-oop to give Eagle's Landing a 32-22 lead late in the second quarter, but the Golden Eagles' starters couldn't maintain that lead. Stockbridge whittled the lead down to 34-29 by halftime. Dante Campbell (21 points, six rebounds) hit a basket to give the Tigers a 39-38 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter, and Crump had enough.
Out came the starters, in came the reserves.
"We gave up 18 points in the third quarter," Crump said. "If (the starters) aren't playing any defense, we need someone who can play defense. ... We believe in that second group."
That second group, led by sophomore Marquis Griffin (seven points), stabilized Eagle's Landing. When the reserves entered, Eagle's Landing trailed by one. When Crump put his starters back in to start the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles trailed by just two.
They took care of the rest.
"This was very important, because we knew Stockbridge, Henry County and Drew were tied for first place in the region," Ringer said. "This really put our name out there as one of the top teams in the region."
Stockbridge girls 54, Eagle's Landing 53
The Lady Tigers had lost a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and belief. But they had Ade Popoola on the free throw line with the game tied and just 0.3 seconds on the clock.
"I was like, 'Just one shot, just one shot,'" Popoola said. "That's all we needed. That's all I was thinking about."
Popoola hit the first free throw and Stockbridge survived with a Region 4-AAA win on the road Tuesday.
Deborah Hoe led Stockbridge (4-7, 4-1) with 20 points, Miracle Johnson had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Popoola added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Mia Adams led Eagle's Landing's valiant comeback with 16 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Alexis Smith scored 15 points off the bench, while Annissia Wood added nine points, all in the thrilling fourth quarter.