WARNER ROBINS -- Several seconds after the buzzer, the outcome of Friday’s GHSA Region 1-AAAA rivalry tilt between the girls of Northside and Warner Robins remained unknown.
As the Demonettes celebrated Aaliyah Jones’ put-back basket, Northside coaches and players turned to the officials, gesturing that the effort had come too late and that overtime beckoned.
The officials looked at one another. Count it. Game over.
Jones’ heroics gave Warner Robins a heart-stopping, 45-43 win over their most bitter rivals at a super-charged Northside gym. They also served to deny, at least temporarily, the Lady Eagles the top seed from the region’s “A” sub-division for the region tournament. Both teams have just one loss in region play -- to each other.
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“I just grabbed it and threw it back up the best I could,” Jones said of her effort. “I just knew we had won. The (Northside) coach was saying it wasn’t good, but Coach (Tom) Mobley said to get to the locker room, so that’s where I went.”
The shot came at the end of a wild 14.6 seconds. After a Northside turnover, the Demonettes (17-4, 4-1) inbounded the ball opposite their bench. According to Mobley, the team tried to set screens for their best shooters, but Northside defenders covered well. The ball ended up on the floor, as did several players from both sides.
“They let us play down the stretch,” Mobley said.
As the clock wound down, senior Asha Stegall got a shot off. It fell short, but Jones, another senior, hit the follow.
When the game ended, all five Demonettes on the floor were seniors as opposed to two for Northside (17-4, 6-1).
That experience looked as if it would prove the difference when Warner Robins used a 7-2 run to take a 43-38 lead with 45 seconds left in regulation. But Northside sophomore Sambria Smith scored the game’s next five points.
Smith scored 10 points and shared high-point honors with teammate Cierra Gordon and Kenyona Armstrong of Warner Robins.
The boys game featured less drama, but just as much passion. Northside avenged two earlier losses with a 76-64 win.
“Our intensity in the second half,” Northside guard Jarius Smith said when asked the difference between Friday’s game and the previous two losses. “We played hard in both the first and second halves this time.”
Midway through the third quarter, Northside (15-5, 6-1) pushed to a 15-point lead and seemed to have worn down the Demons with relentless pressure and frequent substitutions. But Warner Robins (10-10, 3-2) pushed back. A free throw by Johnny Slocumb opening the fourth quarter reduced the Demons’ deficit to 56-49.
The Eagles responded with a Smith layup and a three-point shot by C.J. Jackson. Warner Robins was unable to get inside 10 points the rest of the game.
Smith scored 19 points to lead all scorers. Mario Guyton led the Demons with 12 points.