Photo: Karl L. Moore North Gwinnett guard Baylee Rexing (5) drives around Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) during Saturday night's Region 7-AAAAAA championship game.
HOSCHTON --Saddled with foul trouble since the first quarter, Stephanie Amichia's stat line Saturday night wasn't eye-popping.
Zero points, five rebounds and a foul out in the basketball game's final minute.
But one of those rebounds was a huge one.
The junior grabbed a Joshlyn Belcher free-throw miss in a two-point game, allowing Belcher a chance to return to the line again with 58.4 seconds left in the Region 7-AAAAAA girls title game at Mill Creek. Belcher, a senior who transferred in this school year from Wesleyan, didn't need any more help, converting six straight free throws in the final minute as the Bulldogs won Round 3 with Norcross, 58-53.
"I missed the first one, but thank God Stephanie got that rebound," said Belcher, who finished with 14 points. "It's always the little things that makes the team really great. And we're a great team. ... Coming from Wesleyan where we were very dominant, I've won two state rings already, finding new teammates and a new coach, winning this means a lot. (Teammate) Lexie (Brown) hugged me on court last two seconds of game and told me 'thank you.' Being a new player and starting, it feels good to help out."
Amichia, also a new player after transferring from Peachtree Ridge, did her part, too, as North (25-1) won what is believed to be the first region tourney title in girls basketball in school history.
The victory also avenged North's only loss, a 46-29 defeat at Norcross on Jan. 23, as well as region title game losses to the Blue Devils the previous two seasons.
"I got a little scared there," said North girls coach Bryan Sellers, whose team will host Lambert in the first round of the state tourney. "Josh stepped up and made some big foul shots there to protect that lead. Stephanie, when she fouled out, I told her that rebound right there is what is going to win game for us. What a clutch play for us. We were able to score on free throws after that."
After Belcher's first two free throws, Norcross (22-5) cut it to two points again, but Belcher added two more from the line with 35.1 seconds left for a 55-51 lead. The Blue Devils' hopes were essentially dashed on the next trip when Diamond DeShields' two 3-point attempts were off the mark. The Norcross backers thought she was fouled on the second attempt, when her shot sailed a good eight feet wide right of the goal.
Earlier in the game, it was North doing the misfiring.
The Bulldogs trailed 13-7 after a gruesome first quarter that saw them go 3-for-22 shooting (13.6 percent), including 1 of 12 from 3-point range.
"It was definitely worrisome," Sellers said of the first quarter. "It's the same thing that happened down there (at Norcross). We defended well but didn't shoot the ball well. We were getting open looks and they weren't going down. I thought, 'Oh no, here we go.'"
But Peyton Whitted (15 points, eight rebounds) and Brown (22 points, seven assists, three steals) got the offense going in the second quarter as North finished on an 18-3 run to take a 27-20 halftime edge. Whitted had 10 of her points in the quarter and Brown scored seven in what was an off-shooting night for the Maryland recruit --9-for-25 (36 percent).
Norcross, which hosts South Forsyth in the state tourney opener, got down by as many as 13 points early in the third quarter, then spent the rest of the second half chasing.
Despite the best efforts of Shayla Cooper --the Georgetown signee had 18 of her game-high 28 points in the second half, fouling out Amichia and Whitted along the way --the Blue Devils could only get within two.
DeShields had 15 points and nine rebounds, but the North Carolina signee also had a tough shooting night. She was 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) and only 2 of 11 from 3-point range. Norcross' Sierra Butler scored all six of her points in the second-half comeback attempt.
But the rally fell short thanks to the clutch plays in the final minute from Amichia and Belcher.
"It feels great," Belcher said. "I've always been across the street from Norcross (at Wesleyan) but I never got to play them. We may get to play them again this season (in the state finals)."
Mountain View girls 77, Duluth 76
Iceis Walker's layup at the overtime buzzer lifted the Mountain View girls to a 77-76 victory over Duluth in the third-place game of the Region 7-AAAAAA tourney.
The Bears, now a No. 3 seed for the state tourney with a road trip to North Forsyth on deck, rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit by scoring 51 points in the second half, 27 in the third and 24 in the fourth quarters, to force OT.
Walker and Kelsey Hutchins scored 18 points each to lead Mountain View, while Bria Virgil scored 16. Arianna Williams (nine points), Aneysa Williams (eight points) and D'Andra Pringle (eight points) also had solid games offensively.
Katie Powell scored 29 points to lead Duluth and Joi Jones scored 20. The Wildcats will be a No. 4 seed for the state tourney and will play at Alpharetta.