Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) thanks all the Blue Devils fans for coming out to the 63-42 victory over North Gwinnett during the Class AAAAAA state championship girls basketball game at the Macon Centreplex Saturday.
MACON -- The results of three previous meetings between the girls basketball teams at Norcross and North Gwinnett may have proven pretty much inconclusive.
But in the Class AAAAAA state championship game, the Blue Devils left little doubt which team would have the last word.
Recently crowned Naismith Award winner Diamond DeShields scored a game-high 24 points, and Shayla Cooper added 20 as Norcross grabbed the initiative, and the title, with a 63-42 win Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
"We said we had to play with a sense of urgency," said Angie Hembree, who won her sixth state title as a coach, the third at Norcross. "We had to outbound them. That was huge for us. ... I thought this game, we did a whole lot better job rebounding the ball. I think our half-court defense was really good. ... I'm just so proud of them."
After dropping two of the first three games in the season series, Norcross (28-5) came out at North (29-2) with aggression from the opening tip, though it didn't begin to fully manifest itself on the scoreboard until late in the first quarter.
DeShields got to the line and hit 1 of 2 free throws with 3:41 left in the opening frame to break a 9-9 tie and put the Blue Devils in front by a point, and ignited a 10-4 run over the remainder of the period to extend the lead to 19-13.
"We had to set the tempo," said DeShields, who added four rebounds, three assists, a blocked shot and two steals to her point total. "We had to be the aggressors (Saturday) night. The two losses we got from (North), they outplayed us, simple as that.
"They're a great team, and we knew that coming into this game, we were going to have to play a great ball game in order to win."
And it was in the second quarter that the Blue Devils really began to wear down the Bulldogs on both ends of the court.
Defensively, they held North to just 3 of 13 shooting (23.1 percent) from the floor for the period, and it wouldn't get much better the rest of the way for the Bulldogs, who finished just 15 of 55 (27.3 percent) for the game.
Offensively they not only hit their own shots -- 5 of 8 from the floor -- but also began to accumulate fouls on North, with three different Bulldogs picking up two personal fouls by the 1:51 mark of the half.
The Blue Devils ran off an 11-3 run to take as much as a 14-point lead before taking a 32-21 lead into halftime, and they continued the momentum into the second half, starting the third quarter on a 12-4 run to build as much as a 23-point lead.
But with the Norcross advantage at 48-28 heading into the fourth quarter, North and leader Lexie Brown had one run left in them.
The Maryland-bound senior hit the first eight points of the final frame, part of her team hight 20 points on the evening, and the Bulldogs defense forced Norcross into three straight turnovers as North pulled as close as 48-36 with 5:09 remaining.
"Every single girl on this team is a fighter," North coach Bryan Sellers said. "What we've done all year is bust our butts. But only one team gets to win the last (game)."
And Cooper made sure Norcross would be that team by stepping up with her biggest play of the game to stop the North momentum and turn it back toward the Blue Devils.
The Georgetown-bound forward got into the lane and pulled up for a 10-foot jumper that went down and pushed the Norcross lead back to 50-36 with 3:33 left.
"I knew coming into the fourth quarter, Lexie got hot," said Cooper, who also had eight rebounds. "And with the turnovers, somebody had to step up in the big-time moment because we had to stop that momentum that they had. ... As a senior, I felt like it was my obligation to do so for my team."
And Cooper and DeShields combined to go 9 of 12 from the line down the stretch to put the game away.
In addition to the big night from their dynamic duo, the Blue Devils also got contributions from Kolby Meeks (six points, eight rebounds, three steals) and Sierra Butler (seven points, four boards).
Meanwhile, Brown also had five assists and two steals for North, while Stephanie Amichia added six points and 10 rebounds, Joshlyn Belcher had nine points and Peyton Whited finished with seven for the Bulldogs.