Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
FORT VALLEY -- It wasn't the way Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman wanted to see his team close the game, but he will take the end results.
The fifth-ranked Cardinals were able to weather a sloopy fourth quarter to seal a 64-57 win over Hardaway Friday in the Class AAAA quarterfinals at Fort Valley State University.
With the win, Jonesboro advances to the semifinals where it will take on second-ranked and two-time defending champion Miller Grove Wednesday in Gwinnett
Jonesboro had built a 21-point lead going into the final period, but committed 11 turnovers as Hardaway got back into the game.
The Hawks cut the lead to seven points with 3:17 remaining, but was never able to pull closer.
"We got a little confident and let them back in it," Maehlman said. "We didn't do a very good job with our decision-making in the fourth quarter.
Hey, but I'm proud of these guys. There are some teams that have never been to the final four."
This will be Jonesboro's first appearance since finishing runner-up to Wheeler in 2003, which featured former Cardinals standout and currrent Atlanta Falcons receiver Harry Douglas.
"It is a great feeling to know that you are going to the final four," said Jonesboro guard Rasham Suarez, the Region 4-AAAA Player of the Year. "I still can't believe it. It is almost like I'm dreaming and I don't want to wake up."
It's no dream.
Some clutch free throw shooting by sophomore guard Cameron Sutton was key in the Cardinals, who have won 16 straight games, in keeping Hardaway from completing the comback. Sutton, who finished with 17 points, made all six of his fourth-quarter free throws.
"It just comes from a lot of practice," Sutton said. "I just pretend it is just me and the goal in the gym. I just focus on making the free throws. You always want to add points to the scoreboard when you are at the free throw line."
Despite letting Hardaway, which was led by Jermaine Burrey's 29 points, back into the game, Maehlman was pleased that his team was able to hand on for the win.
The Cardinals only had five turnovers during their third quarter run, but committed 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"A lot of teams would have folded in that situation," Maehlman said. "Our kids just kept going. I wouldn't trade any of those guys in for anybody."
In addition to Sutton, the Cardinals had three other players - Suarez (15 points), James White (13 points) and Jordan Enadeghe (10 points) - to score in double figures. White also had 12 rebounds while Patrick Petty finished with nine rebounds and six assist.
But the team realizes that it will have to play better in the fourth quarter if it wants to continue to advance.
"We got a little laidback in the fourth quarter," Suarez said. "Coach had a few words for us during a timeout. He wanted us to be a little more patience and play as a team."
Although Miller Grove is the No. 2-ranked team in the state and has also been nationally-ranked by serveral publications, the Cardinals say they are not intimidated. The Wolverines are the Region 6-AAAA runner-up to Southwest DeKalb.
"We are going to take it as just another game," White said. "We know it will be a tough fight, but we will have to bring our A-game."