WINDER - For the second straight game, it took overtime for Rockdale to prevail and live another day in the 8-AAAA boys basketball tournament.
Rockdale (19-7 overall) edged Clarke Central 55-50 in overtime Tuesday at Winder-Barrow High School to advance to the 8-AAAA championship. Previously, it defeated Madison County 61-58 in overtime to reach the semifinals.
Later, Heritage (18-8) fell to Loganville 66-64, negating a potential Rockdale-Heritage matchup.
Rockdale 55, Clarke Central 50 (OT)
Despite a frenetic pace - one combining for 53 turnovers and an additional four minutes of play - the consistent Bulldogs advanced to the region finals.
"A lot of times when you have a young basketball team, one of the tougher things that's hard to learn is finishing basketball games," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "I like that they kept their minds in it. They could have went in the tank during the overtime, but they didn't. They put their hearts in it and stayed with it through adversity."
A dismal shooting performance from beyond the arc (3 of 20) proved costly for the Gladiators. They also shot 13 of 21 from the free-throw line, burying their chances for an upset.
Rockdale led by as many as 13 points with 5:09 left in the game before Clarke ripped off 11 straight, closing the deficit to 40-38 after a basket by Babatunde Olumuyiwa.
A scoop shot by Rockdale point guard Cordarryle Bethley with 2:10 remaining extended the lead temporarily before the Gladiators made another run.
With just 12 seconds left, Clarke's John Wilson snatched an offensive rebound for the automatic putback, tying it at 45 and sending the game into overtime.
Clarke Central posted 19 points in the fourth - one more than it had the entire first half.
The Gladiators took their first lead since early in the second quarter thanks to a pair of free throws by Taylor Layne. However, they tallied just five points in overtime, gassed from their impressive late run.
A bucket by freshman Darien Clark tied it at 47 before two free throws by sophomore Kevin Ware with 2:43 remaining gave Rockdale the lead for good.
Rockdale's Byron Lawrence netted four of his team-high 12 points in overtime.
"They press very well. That team was probably one of the most long, athletic teams that we've played this year," Williams said. "They played with a lot of heart and they really (got) after us. We kind of had to adjust to that and try to match their intensity."
Both teams came out of the gates rather sluggish, but the Bulldogs were the more frustrated group, unable to play at their tempo. Clarke Central's full-court press gave Rockdale fits, making it difficult to even bring the ball upcourt and set up the offense.
Nevertheless, an NBA-range 3-pointer at the buzzer by Julius Giles gave the Bulldogs an 11-10 lead after the first quarter.
Trailing 16-14 early in the second period, Rockdale went on a momentum-changing 10-0 run. With 1:05 left until halftime, a driving, acrobatic layup by Ware made it 24-16.
Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 points and four rebounds, responded with a field goal to close the gap 24-18 at intermission.
Overall, Rockdale was 19 of 32 from the charity stripe and hit 2 of 8 3-pointers.
Ware ended with 10 points, 12 boards, four assists and four steals for the Bulldogs. Bethley and Giles had eight points apiece, while Clark chipped in seven boards.
Olumuyiwa had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Gladiators. Layne added five and 10.
Rockdale will face Loganville for the region championship at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Winder-Barrow High School.
Loganville 66, Heritage 64
While it was the deep ball that hurt Clarke Central, it was the complete opposite for Loganville.
The Red Devils sank 13 from beyond the arc to burn the Patriots, advancing to the region finals against Rockdale.
Down 15-13 after the first quarter, Heritage outscored Loganville 15-8 in the second period.
Back-to-back baskets by sophomore Miles Harris gave Heritage a 24-22 lead before halftime.
Shakeem Mitchell led the Patriots with seven points in the quarter. Senior center Justin Jones, who finished with eight points, grabbed seven of his game-high 18 rebounds, which led to several easy putbacks.
Mitchell netted a game-high 27 points for the Patriots. Harris and Garry Peters each chipped in 10.
Despite Heritage being up 47-43 after three quarters and ahead for the majority of the final eight minutes, Loganville's sharpshooting from downtown was simply too much to bear.
Stephen Cochran stole the show for the Red Devils, connecting on seven 3-pointers for a team-high 21 points. Teammate John Harris added 12 points, while Tyler Gunnett and Devise Blount each had 11.
Austin Murray chipped in nine points for the Patriots.
Jason Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.