In the race for third place in the talent-packed Region 8-AAAA, White County won the first lap.
The Warriors dominated the paint at Chestatee, scoring seven layups in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 71-57 win over the War Eagles and clinch a crucial second region win.
The War Eagles (11-11, 2-3 in region) scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to try and claw back a 42-29 deficit after three quarters.
But White County (12-8, 2-2) got the right rebounds at the right time before converting on seven of its last eight free throws to seal a win on the road.
“We knew this would be a separation game,” said White County coach Sam Borg. “This region is really tight, but this is one we had to win. We ended it with free throws and layups and you’re supposed to end the game like that, so that was big.”
Junior Bradley Hurst led all scorers with 23 points, including a game-opening three-pointer that belied a contest that was largely won and lost under the basket.
The War Eagles allowed White County to run off a 6-0 hot streak to end the first quarter up by five and committed nine turnovers in the opening half. Jordan Pulliam (21 points) and Hunter Creamer combined for 10 of Chestatee’s 13 second quarter points, but their efforts couldn’t cut the lead to within five, largely due to senior Juwan Dorsey constantly disrupting the offense with full-court pressure.
Down by five at halftime, Chestatee coach Chad Pittman said he knew that getting off to a good start in the second half would be crucial if his team was to turn the tide.
“We needed the first few minutes of the third quarter to be hard, not letting anything up, but on the first play of the half, it’s a turnover,” he said.
Crawford Abernathy’s layup in those opening seconds represented an issue all night for Chestatee, who scored just two field goals in the entire third quarter. As Chestatee’s defense became more spread out in an attempt to create turnovers, the 6-foot-4 center (12 points) was increasingly open to outlet passes and was able to convert on four of those chances in the fourth to keep the War Eagles at bay.
Freshman Donovan Hernandez (9 points) scored back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to six with 2:40 left. But White County’s clutch free throws were too much for Chestatee, as the War Eagles missed their final three shots of the last minute and a half.
Johnson (19-0, 4-0) and Buford (9-10, 3-1) are the frontrunners at the top of the region, with teams like White County, Monroe Area and Madison County still in contention for third. Meanwhile, Chestatee must regroup for region contests against North Oconee (Jan. 27) and undefeated Johnson (Jan. 30) before finishing the regular season at home against North Hall.
“Sometimes you have talent differential, but sometimes, it comes down to who wants to play,” said Borg. “We’ve been there all year, struggling to close out late, and credit to Chestatee, they made some big shots late. But we’ve learned from our games.”
White County have won two of its last three games and will continue on a three-game road stretch that includes non-region Marist tonight at 6:30 p.m. before Tuesday’s region game at Stephens County.
Chestatee has lost three of its last four games after starting 2-0 in the region.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 39, WHITE COUNTY 31: Brooklyn Popham scored three consecutive 3-pointers within three minutes on Friday night to help the Lady War Eagles break a three-game losing streak heading back to Jan. 16.
The sophomore small forward scored 17 points for Chestatee (12-10, 2-3 in Region 8-AAAA), which picked up its second region win. The result drops White County to 2-2 in the region while improving Chestatee’s record at home to 8-2.
Tyler Bennett (14 points) and Kayla Watson (8) were the only other Lady War Eagles to score against the Warriors (13-7, 2-2). Popham scored her game-changing 3s between the first and second quarters to give Chestatee a 19-5 lead with four minutes left in the opening half.
She scored her fourth of the night with 3:15 left in the fourth to give the War Eagles a 12-point lead.
Paige Thomas (15 points) scored eight of White County’s 10 points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to five late, but Bennett sunk both of her final two free throws to ice the win.
Chestatee will travel to North Oconee and Johnson on Tuesday and Friday, respectively, before finishing the season hosting North Hall.