CONYERS - The Rockdale boys and the Salem girls started Region 8-AAAA South play on solid ground Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs (8-4 overall, 1-0 in 8-AAAA South) limited Salem (5-8, 0-1) to just 14 points in the second half, claiming a 64-50 victory over their cross-county rivals in the nightcap. In the opening game, the Lady Seminoles (8-5, 1-0) relied on their experience and cruised to an 82-60 decision over the Lady Bulldogs (4-8, 0-1).
The boys game came down to runs, and Rockdale made its final one when it counted the most.
Salem had no trouble scoring in the first half. The Seminoles opened the game with an 11-2 run with Zach Roddenberry and David Raudebaugh combining for nine of the points.
But Rockdale closed the quarter with a 15-4 run, getting eight points from Jonathan Gissentaner to end the period with a 17-15 lead.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs established a seven-point lead only to see the Seminoles finish the frame with an 11-3 run to grab a 36-35 halftime lead.
Rockdale opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run, but Salem countered with an 8-2 spurt of its own to take a slim 46-45 lead into the final frame.
Rockdale center Darius McKnight, who missed all the first half except the first 30 seconds with foul trouble, scored off a rebound and then converted his free throw to complete a three-point play.
McKnight started the game's final run, and then Ryan Watts took over for the Bulldogs. The senior guard, who scored nine of his 14 points in the final frame, scored baskets nine seconds apart around the midway point, pushing Rockdale out to a 55-48 advantage.
"Ryan is really coming around to his position; he's understanding being a point guard," Rockdale coach Mitchell Harris said. "He was resistant about playing point guard. He wanted to be a two (guard). But he has the vision, has the ball-handling skills and he has the passing to be a great point guard."
This time, Salem had no answer offensively for the Bulldogs' final surge. The Seminoles hit only 1 of 10 field goal attempts in the final period, and shot only 21 percent in the second half.
"We had some foul trouble at the beginning of the game. Darius McKnight, who closes up the middle for us, wasn't able to play in the first half," Harris said. "We were able to get back in the second and extend (our defense) a little bit more and run them into him (McKnight). He's being very patient and disciplined now and not slapping down (on blocks) any more, so he caused a lot of havoc for them."
Gissentaner finished with a team-high 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Ryan Culbreath chipped in eight points. McKnight added seven points, seven boards and two blocks, all in the second half, while Watts also chipped in four steals and four assists.
Roddenberry paced the Seminoles with a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds, but 14 of his points came in the first half. Justin Giles added eight points, all in the second quarter.
"It was a combination of things (for us on offense). They stepped up their game defensively and we didn't match them by being smart," Salem coach Darren Wilkins said. "We got away from our game plan and must do better about sticking with what works."
Salem girls 82, Rockdale girls 60
The Lady Seminoles appeared to seize control in the first quarter, jumping out to leads of 12-0 and 27-5.
"Well, I think we jumped on them and established control," Salem coach Bill Roberts said. "After we got a comfortable lead, I feel like we lost focus a bit during the second and early third quarter. I feel like we picked it back up again midway through the third quarter and then pulled away."
In the second and third quarters, Rockdale's young squad worked its way back into the game. In fact, Brianna Dennis' free throw cut Salem's lead down to 48-38 with more than three minutes left in the third quarter.
"I was happy with our effort to cut it to 10," Rockdale coach Leonard Buckner said. "But you have to expend so much energy to get to that point that it's hard to get any closer, especially with a young team like we have. We're not consistent, and we play in spurts. But the effort is always there."
That's when Salem's experience took over. The Lady Seminoles outscored Rockdale 34-12 to put the game away. Hurt paced Salem with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Jasmine Patrick added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Salem girls, while Ariel Wynter chipped in 15 points, five boards and two blocks. Kentrell White finished with 11.
Miasia Burks paced Rockdale with 14 points, while Giovanni Sims chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds. Aselah Mazone finished with 10.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.