By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
South Fulton gave Union City everything it wanted — and more.
In the end, though, the Golden Tornadoes not only took SF’s best shot, but what the Red Devils desired most.
Jamie Hyde’s free throw with 8.8 seconds remaining in overtime lifted UC to a thrilling and hotly-contested 67-66 triumph over South Fulton Wednesday in the District 14A Tournament quarterfinals.
The smallest-of-margin victory sends the second-seeded Twisters (19-8) on to not only the tourney semifinals Friday at Trenton against No. 3 Humboldt (17-10), but also to the Region 7A event next week for the 11th consecutive season.
SF, meanwhile, saw its campaign come to an immediate close with its 20th straight loss to Union City over a 10-year period and second in a row in the first round of the district tournament. More importantly, it kept the Redmen (12-16) from advancing to the regional for the seventh consecutive year.
Those two streaks could’ve easily been broken against a less-tested foe as South Fulton played undoubtedly its best all-around game of the season and held the upper hand vs. UC for much of Wednesday’s game.
Behind the stellar play of sophomore guard Harrison Hawks, who poured in a game-high 24 points — 18 in the first half in which the Devils led by as many as 13 points while shooting 67 percent from the field — seventh-seeded SF looked poised to pull off the first-round upset.
But the Tornadoes — spurred by the hustling efforts of LaMonte Dickerson — scored the first nine points of the third quarter and the two teams played nip and tuck for basically all of the fourth quarter and the OT.
In the extra session, Clint Wells’ deep 3-pointer drew the Redmen even at 66 with 18 seconds to play before Hyde was fouled while driving to the bucket with under 10 ticks showing. After missing the first of two charities, he drained the second to account for the eventual margin.
South Fulton’s Jordan Davis then went end-to-end and got up a would-be game-winning attempt under heavy pressure just before the final buzzer, but the shot was off and set off a varying range of expected emotions from the two serarate followings.
“Hat’s off to South Fulton; I don’t think they could’ve played any better,” Union City head coach Shane Sisco said following the contest. “There’s no question they were not a typical seven-seed, and I think they’d tell you if they’d played like this all season, they wouldn’t have been a seventh seed coming into tonight.
“It’s an old cliché, but what we did was what you have to do at this time of the year: Survive and advance. The stretch we had to begin the second half when we got back in the game was critical. We always talk about the first three minutes of the third quarter being important in all close games, and that was the case tonight. I’m proud of our kids for the resiliency they showed and that they took the best shot of a quality opponent and found a way to win.”
On the other bench, the Devils’ Wes Miller was understandably disappointed, but proud of his gutsy troops.
“Our kids really wanted this game, and I’m sorry they couldn’t get the result that matched the way they played,” said the SF skipper. “Before we had the (tournament) draw, I knew of all the teams we could potentially have to play on the road, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting them motivated for Union City.
“All you can ask for is a chance, and we had one to win the game with the ball and eight seconds left, down by one point. I thought we missed some opportunities to have an even bigger lead than 10 at the half, though, and against teams like Union City, you have to take advantage of those when you have them or they’ll come back to bite you. That’s what happened in a nutshell.”
With Hawks the catalyst with his all-around stellar play in the first half, SF built a 39-26 late after he made 1-of-2 free throws to account for the last of his 11 points in the second quarter.
Down 39-29 at the break and thoroughly outplayed over the first two periods when the Devils scored on 19 of 25 possessions, UC got the spurt it needed to begin the third frame with Dickerson hitting for seven of the hosts nine unanswered markers that made it a one-point game.
With South Fulton up 47-44 entering the final frame, freshman Marcus DeBerry canned a triple in the first 10 seconds of the fourth quarter to even the count and neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way.
There were five lead changes and two ties in the final eight minutes, the last coming at 58-all when Hyde made the front end of a bonus free throw chance with 100 seconds left. Both teams then squandered multiple opportunities to win the game in regulation.
Hawks and DeBerry swapped out 3-point plays to start the overtime before the Twister twice went up by three points — first on Peyton Mosley’s old-fashioned 3-point play, then when Hyde bottomed a jumper from the lane to make it 66-63 with 47 seconds showing.
Wells made the last of his three treys to set up the frantic final two possessions.
“I really thought Chris Boucher did a great job defensively on Hawks in the second half after he just owned us in the first two quarters,” Sisco added. “Chris is a little longer-armed, and I think our defense overall in the second half when we allowed just 19 points was much better.
“And Dickerson really gave us a lift there in the third quarter with his energy — something that’s been a trademark of his all season.”
Dickerson’s 18 points led a quartet of double-figure scorers for Union City with Hyde adding 15 and both DeBerry and Mosley hitting for 12.
Keshawn McManus (15) and Wells (11) joined Hawks in twin-digits for SF.
“I thought (Harrison) Hawks played awfully well, about as well as he can,” Miller said. “Our game plan was to attack the basket and not settle for 3-pointers and jumpers.
“I think it is noteworthy that four of the five players we had on the court on the last possession will be returning starters next year. We’d hoped to send this senior bunch out with a regional tournament trip that would’ve definded their legacy, but we just couldn’t quite get it done.”
Davis, Kendall Greer and Hunter Hutchins all suited up for the final time in a SFHS uniform.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.16.12