Photos by Jerry Jackson: Jonesboro freshman guard Amoni Walker (32) drives right at former Lady Cardinal, now Fayette County shooting guard Aneesa Watson (23). The Lady Cardinals knocked off the defending Class AAAA champs Friday at Fort Valley State.
FORT VALLEY — Jonesboro coach Michael House emerged from his team's locker room with his collar dripping in sweat.
He immediately took a seat on a nearby bench.
Moments earlier, his second-ranked Lady Cardinals team survived a frantic late-game slugfest with defending state champion and top-ranked Fayette County on Friday in the quarterfinals at Fort Valley State University.
The game wasn't secured until the game official waved off Fayette County's Schaquilla Nunn's potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer to give Jonesboro a 47-46 win to send the Lady Cardinals to the semifinals.
"We almost let it slip away," House said. "I'm proud of the way my girls were able to weather the storm."
Jonesboro let a nine-point lead with 2:52 slip amid numerous turnovers and a breakdown in its defense as the Lady Tigers scored on six layups and two free throws.
"It was a game of inches and seconds," Fayette County coach John Strickland said. "Tonight, Jonesboro is the team going to the final four. We got behind, but fought back. The ref waved the basket off, and I don't question that."
It is the Lady Cardinals' first trip to the semifinals since 2008 while Fayette County suffered its first defeat in the quarterfinals under Strickland.
Jonesboro extended a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter into a nine-point advantage.
But Fayette County would not go away quietly.
A jumper by Lawna Kennedy tied the score at 44-44 with 30 seconds remaining. Jonesboro freshman Michaelle Smith, who finished with 11 points, made a layup with 20 seconds remaining for a 46-44 Jonesboro lead.
Nunn would make a layup to tie with 13 seconds remaining before Smith would make one of two free throws with six seconds remaining for a 47-46 lead for the Lady Cardinals, who have won 13 straight games.
Nunn had a clear look at the basket, but the shot came too late.
"I was impressed that we got down the court and a shot without having to call a timeout," Strickland said. "She got a good look at it."
Fayette County looked as if it would cruise to the win after jumping to a 13-0 lead to start the game. A 3-pointer by Victoria Florence with eight seconds remaining in the opening quarter put the Lady Cardinals on their way.
From there, Jonesboro would climb back into the game as it was tied 19-19 at the intermisssion.
"We need that point," said Florence, who finished with 11 points. "We were able to pick it up from there. We have a great opportunity ahead of us."
Jonesboro will take on Southwest DeKalb on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Southwest DeKalb has won three of the last four Class AAAA titles.
"At this point, all teams are good," House said. "I see where the girls see within themselves that they can step up to a challenge. They believe they can get it done."