COLUMBUS -- At times, it looked like Crawford County was toying with Swainsboro a little bit.
The Eagles were quicker, and their defense didn’t give the Tigers many clean looks.
There was a 10-0 run here, a 10-2 run there. But those were countered by stretches of coming up empty because of turnovers.
That kept Swainsboro alive, but it still wasn’t enough.
Crawford County finished the third quarter strong and delivered the knockout punch a few minutes into the fourth en route to a 71-58 win Friday over Swainsboro in a GHSA Class AA boys semifinal at Columbus State’s Frank G. Lumpkin Center.
“They were eager to win, and in doing so, there were several mistakes that could have cost us,” Crawford County head coach Clyde Zachery said. “But they responded well to everything we asked them to do. They just play as a team.”
The Eagles improved to 28-3 after their first trip to the semifinal round since 1998.
William Jarrell led the Eagles with 28 points while Marcal Knolton added 23 points and 15 rebounds.
“We had to execute and play as a team,” said Jarrell, a 6-foot-4 junior. “I told the boys before the game we had to play as a team and together like we have been doing the whole year.”
The 4,500-seat Lumpkin Center bears no resemblance to the Eagles’ home in Roberta, a gym right out of “Hoosiers.” And both teams needed to adjust.
“This is our first time together playing like this in a big arena,” Jarrell said. “We played at Peach County. That’s the biggest gym we played in this year.”
The Eagles trailed only momentarily and for the final time midway through the first quarter, during which all of their points came from the inside. The defense held Swainsboro to a point in the final 4:15 of the quarter.
Crawford County got rolling in the second quarter, blowing past the Tigers to a 29-15 lead only to stagnate and watch the lead fall to eight at halftime as Swainsboro crept back, thanks to work on the offensive glass.
“We should have played way more physical,” said Jarrell, who along with Knolton got banged around pretty good. “Coach always tells us don’t worry about the calls, just play.”
Zachery wanted the Eagles to get back to the simple things.
“That was our message at halftime, ‘We’ve got to rebound and play defense,’ ” he said.
Still, the physical Tigers were within four with two minutes left in the third. Crawford County calmed down and outscored Swainsboro 10-2 to finish the quarter, Quay Wiggins getting six of his 12 points in the run as the Eagles lead by 12 entering the fourth.
Three minutes into the quarter, Jarrell followed a layup with a steal and slam for a 68-52 lead, forcing a Swainsboro timeout with 4:31 left.
Crawford County’s four consecutive turnovers after ended up not hurting its chances.
“A little bit sloppy,” Zachery said. “They were hyped up. The first time for a lot of them been here. Well, that’s the first time any of them have been here.”
Despite Swainsboro’s rallies and Crawford County’s unforced mistakes, the Eagles never got rattled.
“They’ve got guts and heart,” Zachery said. “They find a way to pull it back together and do what we need to do to win.”