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Clutch shooting sends Jonesboro to quarterfinals

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro guard Victoria Florence (1) and center Kim Dawkins (11) look to apply defensive pressure on Statesboro in the fourth quarter of the second-ranked Lady Cardinals win on Tuesday.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro guard Victoria Florence (1) and center Kim Dawkins (11) look to apply defensive pressure on Statesboro in the fourth quarter of the second-ranked Lady Cardinals win on Tuesday.

As Kenisha Reeves walked off the court Tuesday, Jonesboro principal Stephanie Johnson shouted, “Awesome job!” to the junior guard.

In the closing minutes of second-ranked Jonesboro’s 56-43 home-court win over third-ranked Statesboro in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs, Reeves was clutch.

She was perfect on six free throws as the Lady Cardinals took control of the game. Jonesboro outscored Statesboro 12-4 in the last 1:31 of the game, including making all 10 of its free throws.

“That is the way you close a game,” Jonesboro coach Michael House said. “Kenisha stepped up big.”

Victoria Florence made all four of her free-throw attempts in the closing seconds as the Lady Cardinals extended their winning streak to 12 games and advanced to the state quarterfinals on Friday at Fort Valley State University.

With 7:18 remaining, Florence hit a 3-pointer from the left side to give the Lady Cardinals a 36-35 lead, their first since early in the second quarter. From there, Jonesboro would outscore Statesboro 20-8 to finish the game.

It was the third straight season that a Clayton County team has eliminated Statesboro from the state playoffs. The last two seasons, Forest Park defeated the Lady Blue Devils in the quarterfinals.

“Making those free throws was big,” Reeves said. “I was a little nervous, but we practice them every day. I just told myself to go up there and knock them down. I was relaxed and just made them. This win is real special.”

The pivotal moment for the Lady Cardinals was in the third quarter, when House was hit with a technical foul for arguing with one of the game officials. That seemed to be what fired the team up with 5:24 remaining in the quarter.

“I was hoping that would rally the girls,” House said. “They (officials) were letting us play, but I was arguing what I thought was a foul. Maybe I overreacted, but it got them going.”

Florence agreed: “It fired us up. We had to step up. I had to become more of a leader on the floor.”

Within a two-minute span early in the fourth quarter, Florence hit two threes and Briana Benson hit another to start the team’s rally. In between baskets, Jonesboro turned up the defensive pressure.

Statesboro (27-2) committed three straight turnovers as a result.

The fourth quarter was a contrast of the first two quarters for Jonesboro, which was getting outhustled by the taller Statesboro team.

“I say it was our nerves,” Jonesboro junior Kim Dawkins said. “We were nervous. I think when we looked up at the scoreboard and saw only eight minutes remaining, we knew we had to turn it up. We had to play hard or we were going home.”

As a result, Jonesboro (24-5) will travel to Fort Valley to take on top-ranked and defending state champion Fayette County (25-5) at 4 p.m. Friday.

The winner of that contest advances to the semifinals next week at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

“All year we have been waiting to play Fayette County,” Florence said. “Now, we get that shot.”