KATHLEEN -- The Perry Panthers emerged from the halftime locker room with a new sense of urgency and exploded in the third quarter to come from double-digits down and beat West Laurens 55-49 in the GHSA Region 2-AAAA boys championship game Friday night.
West Laurens dominated the opening half, leading by seven early and extending the lead to 11 midway through the second quarter. After Perry drew back within seven, the Raiders finished the half on a 6-0 run to take all the momentum into the break up 32-19.
Perry head coach Brett Hardy urged his kids to play tougher, and they responded in a big way in the third quarter.
The Panthers started the half on a 9-0 run, thanks to a smothering pressure defense. They continued to claw away at the West Laurens lead until K.J. Smith knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie it at 36.
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They went on to outscore the Raiders 10-2 in the final two minutes, capped by a 3-pointer from the left corner by Kevin Ford on a perfectly executed play with just seconds remaining.
The regular-season region champion Panthers forced 14 West Laurens turnovers in the third, exploiting their quickness advantage in the backcourt. Smith scored 13 of his 26-points in the period, while post player Chris Clerkley added eight.
West Laurens drew back within three with under a minute to play in the fourth, but they chose to foul the wrong man twice. Smith made them pay as he knocked down four free throws in succession to help Perry secure the victory and the No. 1 seed headed into the state tournament.
The two teams had split the regular-season series.
Veterans won its first ever region championship with a convincing 60-39 win over Perry in the girls contest.
The Warhawks built a 17-point halftime advantage, and Perry never trailed by fewer than 10 in the second half.
Senior post player Khayla Owens had 15 points and 14 rebounds for Veterans, while junior Anna Nicholson chipped in 15, including a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter that helped Veterans build an early nine-point lead.
Veterans will play at home Tuesday.