CONYERS - On Tuesday, visiting Lithonia handed Rockdale its first loss of the season on opening night in both boys and girls play.
In the boys game, Rockdale's youth played a factor in the eventual outcome. Lithonia used an experienced roster of 12 seniors and four juniors to win its first game of the season at a packed Rockdale gymnasium 65-61.
"It's hostile," Lithonia coach Lewis Jones said of the environment, "but I've got some returning guys and they stepped up tonight. I was so happy to have them with me, and that's what we're looking forward to."
Rockdale was tied or had the lead throughout the entire second half until 1:10 left in the game, when Lithonia's Randell Lyons knotted the score at 59-59 with a layup.
Free throws put Lithonia - who went 10-for-17 in the fourth period - up for good.
"They're young kids (who) run off emotion," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "They're the most emotional group of kids I've ever worked with. But we gotta stay up and stay positive with them. It's the beginning of the season, and I don't think they've seen a lot of situations like that, so I think that had a lot to do with that."
Based on its inexperience, Rockdale committed nine turnovers in the fourth quarter alone.
"Well, I've been preaching to the boys that they had to get themselves in shape because at the end it was going to show off," Jones said. "I think we had just a little bit more stamina, (and) we were able to come through at the end."
Overall, Lithonia was 18-for-33 (55 percent) from the free-throw line. Rockdale finished 14-for-28 (50 percent).
"Our problem (was) that we hadn't made free throws all night, and we were able to make a couple at the end and that helped us a whole lot," Jones said.
Lithonia's Lorenzo Pulley and Semaj Sharkey each had 14 points. Warren Jackson added 13.
"It was a war," Jones said. "They've got a really good team, and we're looking at trying to start a rivalry back and forth."
Rockdale senior Jonathan Gissentanner had a team-high 12 points, including eight in the fourth quarter alone. Julius Giles finished with nine points - all 3s - while Kevin Ware added eight points.
Eleven Rockdale players scored at least one point.
"My kids don't quit, period," Williams said. "A few people can play a little better than I thought, and I also saw some things that a couple of my older kids really need to work on. We'll be fine. We rebounded better than I thought we would, and that was definitely a plus. They got after it, and if (they'll) fight like that and listen, they'll be good."
In the girls game, Rockdale trailed the entire game until 3:30 left in the contest. Briana Lawrence connected with a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 45-43.
But after several more ties, Lithonia's Jasmine Grayson drilled a field goal of her own during the final minute to put her team up for good en route to a 52-47 win.
Grayson finished with 14 points.
Despite scoring just two points in the opening quarter, Rockdale added 13 in the second period to trail 27-15 at halftime.
But after three quarters of action, Rockdale cut the lead 37-34. The Lady Bulldogs went on an 8-1 run to open the second half.
Overall, Lithonia was 18-for-31 from the free-throw line, while Rockdale was 8-for-18.
Lithonia's Nicole Antoine had a team-high 16 points. Grayson added 14, while Dominique Antoine had 12. Cynia Clark chipped in eight points.
Rockdale's Portia McCray had a game-high 17 points. Lawrence and Miasia Burks finished with eight points apiece.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.