Now the Lady Knights have won two.
River Ridge defeated Chestatee 44-34 on Friday night at home to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA state championship in just the program’s fourth season.
Coach Jason Taylor said he and his team couldn’t be more excited, and he hopes that keeps moving the bar for future teams to meet even higher.
“You never want to lose, but they really don’t want to lose now,” he said.
Region 7AAAA champion River Ridge (22-8) will host Columbia, the top seed of 6AAAA, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The winner of that game will play in next Saturday’s semifinal at Fort Valley State University.
River Ridge and second-seeded Chestatee (23-7) battled defensively Friday, with Chestatee staying within two points until fewer than 3 minutes remained in the game. After the Lady Knights’ Jordan Livesay fed Ilana Hamilton on a backdoor layup to go up by four, River Ridge began to stall on its next possession.
Chestatee then started fouling in an attempt to get the ball.
“It was back-and-fourth the whole game,” Taylor said. “We probably scored more in the last 2 minutes going to the foul line than we did during any other span of the game.”
River Ridge went 6-for-7 from the free-throw line in the final 2 minutes.
The Lady Knights took a 12-8 lead after the first quarter, but Chestatee was up one by halftime. River Ridge outscored the Lady War Eagles 13-11 in the third quarter to hold a one-point lead of its own entering the final period of play.
Chestatee scored just three points in the fourth quarter, although Taylor said he didn’t make any changes defensively.
“We just decided it was time to go play defense and win a ballgame,” he said. “I told them in the locker room before there game that, at this point, everyone who is still there is there because they are the best in their region. They earned their way there. Everyone wants to make it to the state championship and we were going to get (Chestatee’s) best shot.”
Entering the fourth quarter, Taylor issued a reminder to his players that they had just 8 minutes to make a difference.
“We were only up one and it seemed like it stayed that way forever,” said Taylor, who added that Chestatee tied the game at 32-all with a free throw before his team made its move. “We finally scored and tightened up our defense.”
Chestatee used 3-pointers to stay close in the third quarter, but River Ridge didn’t allow it to get a long-range shot off in the fourth.
Taylor said that while his team struggled shooting from long range — making just three 3-pointers — a strong defense carried them through. He told the players as much in the locker room.
“When you have a night when you aren’t scoring, but you can win in the state tournament and make the quarterfinals, that says how good you are,” Taylor said. “On a night when we are on, we have as good a chance as anyone to win this thing. I’m very happy with the defensive effort.”
Taylor praised the defense of Parker Nayman, who defended the low post effectively, and Hamilton, who took on the task of guarding Chestatee’s dominant first-half player and shut her down in the second half. Lucy Stone kept the Lady War Eagles from making any 3s in fourth quarter.
Livesay led River Ridge with 15 points, while Jessica Baker finished with eight points and three steals. Nayman added seven points and seven rebounds, with Livesay and Hamilton each adding four rebounds.
“You could tell that neither team wanted to lose,” Taylor said.