Staff Photo: John Bohn McConnell Middle School's Asia McCoy (22) prepares to shoot while guarded by Duluth Middle School's Brianna Dixon (30) during the Gwinnett County Middle School Championship girls basketball game played at Grayson High School on Thursday.
LOGANVILLE -- With 4:51 remaining in the fourth quarter, Duluth's middle school team took its first lead of the game against McConnell.
The Wildcats led 16-15 after the basket, giving them a lead against a team in the Tigers accustomed to winning their games by double-digit margins. But instead of getting rattled, the undefeated Tigers scored the next 16 points and by early in the third quarter led 31-16 and were on their way to a 46-31 win and a county girls basketball middle school championship.
"The way we finished the first half, that is what put us in position to win the game," McConnell head coach Chandler Deep said.
In the run, the Tigers got seven points from leading scorer Linsey Marchese, all on offensive put-backs. For the game, Marchese had 14 rebounds and 15 points and a pair of blocks.
"They didn't box out down low," she said.
"I've never coached someone that tall," Deep said. "She is our first option on offense. I am not sure where we'd be without her."
Where the Tigers are is atop Gwinnett County after finishing 16-0.
"It's been so amazing, I've never experienced anything like this," Deep said. "They are an easy team to coach."
Scoring the final 13 points of the half makes it easy.
The Tigers ended the quarter with a basket by Jaida Bolden, her only bucket of the game, off of a smooth pass from Autumn Newby after she came away with a steal near midcourt. Newby, who scored 11 points, had opportunities for more, but opted to make the extra passes often.
"Instead of trying to take it up, I decided to pass it," Newby said. "I knew my teammate was going to make it."
Asia McCoy joined Newby with 11 points. Endia Banks led Duluth with 12 points, but only managed four after the first quarter when the Tigers adjusted their defense to concentrate on her. Brianna Dixon scored 11 for the Wildcats.
Duluth made a small run in the fourth quarter with McConnell attempting to run out the final seven minutes, but the Wildcats never got closer than 15 points, yet left with the runner-up trophy. This is the first title for McConnell, a newer middle school in the county, much like its high school counterpart in Archer, but even the players understood they were building something special.
"It's pretty rare for McConnell," Newby said. "We aren't a very old team. But we are setting the tome for the sixth-graders."