By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
South Fulton finally cleared a hurdle that had been a major stumbling block for nine years.
The Red Devil boys ended a 17-game losing streak against Lake County Tuesday night, beating the Falcons for the first time since January 21, 2004, 68-61.
Perhaps as important as the District 14A triumph was the mental barrier SF overcame against a Lake County program that had admittedly crept into the heads of many Red Devil players because of their mastery in the series in recent years.
“It’s no secret the three teams that’ve really had our number — Lake County, Humboldt and Union City — and hopefully we got over a huge mental hump with one of them tonight,” South Fulton head coach Wes Miller said. “We ignored the name on the front of their jerseys and played through some tough stretches in the second half without going to pieces because of who we were playing against.”
Harrison Hawks poured in 24 points and Keshawn McManus had a huge game with 13 points and 16 rebounds as SF (12-9, 5-6) followed up a convincing win over second-place Greenfield with another triumph that boosted the Redmen to the four-spot in the updated league standings.
The South Fulton girls also notched a critical district win and avenged an earlier narrow loss with a 48-47 win in the opener.
Laken Haley’s 3-point play with 10.3 seconds showing gave the Devilettes their eventual margin and the Big Red appeared to get a huge break then when the Lady Falcons’ Shamon Pearson was bumped and under heavy pressure with no foul whistled while driving to the bucket on the visitors’ last possession as time expired.
“We were fortunate … very fortunate,” SF skipper Curt Lee admitted.
Haley’s heroics completed a game-high 21-point effort for the winners, who are now 15-5 overall and 8-3 in the league — just one game behind Lake County for second place.
South Fulton hosts Halls on Friday then entertains Trenton Saturday in a makeup twinbill that will find the Red Devil boys playing Peabody in the first game at 6 p.m., followed by the girls’ game.
SF 68, Lake Co. 61 (B)
The Redmen led by as many as 13 (31-18) with three minutes gone in the second quarter after an impressive flurry to start the period that included two buckets and an assist by McManus, a pair of Hawks free throws, Clint Wells’ 3-pointer and a deuce by J.P. Fowler.
Foul issues encountered by both Hawks and point-guard T.J. Ingram and the offensive prowess of Lake County’s Zay Coleman, who scored all but three of the Falcons’ 15 points in the frame that led to a run of 11 unanswered markers and got the visitors within 31-29.
It was 35-29, SF, at the half and 48-39 in favor of the Devils with three periods in the book before things really got interesting.
Back-to-back 3-point plays by Devon Jones pulled the Falcons within 51-47 and — when South Fulton committed a rash of turnovers — LC got within 58-56 with 2:25 to go.
Lake County’s comeback bid was deflated a few seconds later, though, when Coleman and his game-high 29 points were sent to the bench with his fifth foul.
McManus made 3-of-4 free throws to give SF some breathing room and Hawks converted an old-fashioned 3-point play on a slashing move to the bucket and two free throws to help completely stave off the uprising.
“Maybe a month ago, we lay down in that situation when things get a little shaky,” Miller said. “We’ve been stressing playing through the rough patches and weathering the storm. That’s going to happen when you have a sophomore running the show, but he’s (Ingram) gotten a lot better in the past month.”
“And right now, we’re playing with a little ‘refuse to lose’ attitude.”
Tevaris James narrowly missed joining McManus in the double-double category, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. Ingram dished out seven assists for the winners.
SF 48, Lake Co. 47 (G)
The thrilling ending to the opener came with some controversy, though Haley’s deed could not be overlooked.
“It was really a broken play and she just made something out of it,” Lee said of South Fulton’s winning possession that came after both teams had called timeouts with 15.4 seconds to go.
Haley had nine of her game-high total in the final period, evening the count at both 41 and 43 with driving buckets.
Pearson’s 3-pointer with 2:16 showing gave Lake County a 46-43 edge before Ka-lon Martin scored for SF to make it a one-point game at the two minute mark. The Devilettes then wasted a couple of chances to take the lead, misfiring twice from the field and Martin off twice on foul shots.
A single charity by LC’s Ashley Wiggins with 23 seconds left gave the Lady Falcons a 47-45 advantage and set the stage for the frantic finish.
“We decided not to press in the game to see if we could guard them and we couldn’t,” Lee added. “I don’t know if it was the week layoff or what, but we really didn’t play very well. We were just able to make a play or two at the end that was the difference.”
Lake County led by as many as 11 (22-11) after scoring 12 unanswered points in the second stanza.
SF battled back behind Martin, getting within 28-24 at the intermission. Taleeah Cross’ 3-pointer early in the second half gave the Devilettes their first lead since the opening period (29-28) and the game remained nip-and-tuck thereafter.
Martin joined Haley in double figures for South Fulton with 14 points.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 1.30.13