WOODSTOCK — On their fourth attempt to reach the third round of the state basketball tournament, the Chestatee Lady War Eagles put forth their best effort yet. It was almost enough.
Chestatee fell 44-34 to River Ridge on Friday in their second round game at River Ridge High, in a contest that wasn’t decided until the final minutes.
With the loss, Chestatee’s winningest senior class, including four starters and six players total, ends its final season 23-7, its third 20-win season, and third trip to the second round, in four seasons. Chestatee has reached the second round in four of the past five seasons.
After a long talk with the team in the locker room after the game, Lady War Eagles coach Web Daniel could look at the season as a whole, instead of just the pain of the final defeat.
“It was a great season for us.” he said. “This senior class was the winningest group of girls for us.
“They’re a great group of seniors.”
In their senior season the Lady War Eagles class of 2013 finally delivered the program its first Lanierland tournament title. They were also hoping to be the first group to reach the third round.
“We felt like this was our best chance we had,” Daniel said. “(River Ridge) kind of reminded me of us. Kind of like a mirror image.”
That similarity shown through on the court, with neither team getting a lead bigger than four points, or scoring more than two baskets in a row, until the Region 7-AAAA champion Lady Knights (22-8) finally pulled away by scoring the game’s final 12 points while holding No. 2-seed Chestatee to just one fourth-quarter field goal.
Lady War Eagles senior forward Maegan Kenimer (seven points) put her team ahead for the final time as she scored the first three points of the final quarter to put Chestatee ahead 34-32 with 5:40 remaining.
It would prove to be the Lady War Eagles’ final points of the night. River Ridge senior Jordan Livesay, who led all scorers with 15 points, tied the game soon after on a jump shot, and Ilana Hamilton took a pass under the basket and hit a layup for the go-ahead points, her only two points of the game.
Livesay, part of the four-year-old school’s first senior class, made a layup with just under two minutes remaining to go ahead 38-34 and match River Ridge’s largest lead of the game.
Coupled with Chestatee senior Sam Brown (nine points) fouling out of the game soon after and Chestatee failing to convert on its ensuing trips up the floor, the Lady War Eagles were forced to foul to try and get back in.
Instead, River Ridge hit its final six free throw attempts in the final minute to seal the win.
“They just made some good baskets at the right time,” Daniel said. “And we couldn’t.”
The Lady Knights’ clutch performace, against a team they also beat 47-34 in the regular season, put them into the third round for the first time in program history.
River Ridge will play host to Columbia next week in the quarterfinals.
For Lady Knights coach Jason Taylor, the two games against Chestatee this season weren’t all that different.
“They were very similar,” he said. “Both were slow, defensive, grind it out games.”
Neither team caught fire in the first half, which turned into a half-court back and forth game. Neither squad even managed to score more than two baskets in a row.
The largest lead in the first half was four points at the end of the first quarter, when River Ridge scored the final five points of the half, on 5-of-5 free throw shooting, to take a 12-8 lead.
Chestatee responded to open the second quarter with a 5-0 run of its own, including a 3-pointer by Brown, to take a 13-12 lead. From there, the game was back in forth, but this time the Lady War Eagles went into the half with the momentum, as Chestatee senior Erin Clifford (team-high 12 points) sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the visitors ahead 20-19 at the break.
The third quarter was nearly the same, with Clifford hitting two more 3-pointers, but River Ridge held a 32-31 lead heading into the fourth.
Taylor said he was impressed by Clifford’s performance, as was Daniel, but Taylor said his team focused mostly on defending Kenimer.
“We knew they like to get it to the post, and I thought we did a good job of defending her,” he said.
Kenimer finished with a team-high nine rebounds, but was held to single digits scoring, below her season average, as River Ridge forward Parker Nayman (seven points) matched Kenimer down low.
Both teams were solid from the free throw line, with Chestatee finishing 4 of 5 and River Ridge 11 of 13. Chestatee sank six treys.