Conyers Heading into the 2011-2012 boy's basketball season, Rockdale had to replace two Division 1 players, another college player and a future Division 1 player from the starting five of a team that reached the state championship game. Thanks to the one player that remained, the Bulldogs keep on winning anyway. C.J. Wilson scored 30 points and Rockdale erased a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter to hold off Salem 72-68 Friday.
Rockdale (13-5, 4-0 Region 8-AAAA) won its sixth consecutive game, though Friday's tilt was a lot more difficult after the previous five had come by an average margin of 19.8 points.
The visiting Bulldogs scored five straight points to turn a 63-58 deficit into a tie game when Charles Moore nailed a 3-pointer with 3:32 left in the game. Ahmad Mitchell hit a bucket for Salem (12-6, 2-2), but that was the last time the Seminoles would lead. Daron Scott fed David Jelks, who finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, for a lay up, Moore hit two free throws and Jelks' put back put Rockdale up 69-65 at the 1:29 mark. Salem got to within 69-68 as Caneshe Green lost his footing twice on the baseline, but still found Marques McKoy for a lay up. After Wilson calmly hit two free throws, Todd James's potential tying 3-pointer from the top of the key rimmed out.
Rockdale looked in control early in the third when LaRonta Parks made a nifty pass to Darious Mitchell for a basket that gave the Bulldogs a 40-28 cushion. But the rest of the third belonged to Salem and Dedrick Turner. The guard had a dunk on a break away, then hit a difficult shot in the lane and completed the three-point play to cap and 11-4 run and make it a 44-39 game. Later in the quarter, Turner drained a 3-pointer and had another dunk, then Mitchell's lay up at the buzzer send the Seminoles into the final period up 53-51. Turner and Wilson matched threes at the start of the fourth, the last of which was banked in by the Rockdale junior to tie the game at 58-58 before Salem ran off five straight to build its largest lead of the night.
Turner led Salem with 17 points and McKoy, who played the final 4:10 with four fouls, had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Salem girls 57, Rockdale 47
After a pair of losses last week, Salem fell out of the Class AAAA rankings at gaprepcountry.com. But with Friday's win, the Seminoles may be headed right back into the rankings, while knocking their rival from the poll. Ayanna Mitchell continued her outstanding freshman season, scoring 16 of her 23 points in the second half as the hosts led the entire way in knocking off the No. 8 Bulldogs.
"Our kids have played hard all year long, they're having fun with each other," said first-year Salem coach Rochone Dilligard. "I have some people that are stepping up as leaders."
One of those leaders is Mitchell, who once again played beyond her years. She hit a pair of free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound-one of her 12 total rebounds-as Salem went on a 9-0 run to take its biggest lead at 44-30 with 4:55 left. The Seminoles were dominant on the glass all night, out-rebounding Rockdale 37-22 (21-9 on the offensive glass) due in large part to the absence of Rockdale's top post presence, Kree Clark, who missed the game while dealing with a death in the family.
"We knew that coming in," Rockdale coach Sherri Williams said of Clark's absence. "Somebody had to step up to the plate, (it) didn't happen."
"(Clark) was definitely a key rebounder for them," Dilligard said. "We stressed all week about boxing out on the boards. We definitely can be better on the boards."
Salem jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 11-2, yet led only 24-20 at halftime. Mitchell began to assert herself in a pivotal third, getting two put backs and grabbing another offensive rebound, which led to a pair of free throws, and a 34-25 lead. Danielle Thomas followed suit, getting a put back at the buzzer to put the Seminoles up 39-30.
Rockdale made one, final push. Despite struggling through much of the game, Tennessee State signee Brianna Lawrence made a nice feed on a 3-pointer by Breanna Richardson (team-high 20 points) to start the Bulldogs on an 11-0 spurt that cut the Salem lead to 44-41 with 2:26 to play. But the Bulldogs got just a pair of field goals from Jasmyn Hill, who played well off the bench, and two free throws from Lawrence over the final 2:26.