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Heated rivalry
Rockdale boys battle for victory over Salem

CONYERS - Another chapter was added on Tuesday evening after Rockdale and Salem battled to a split in its cross-town basketball rivalry.

In a thrilling spectacle, the Rockdale boys (12-5 overall, 3-0 in 8-AAAA South) prevailed 67-64 over the Seminoles (5-13, 0-2). Meanwhile, the Lady Seminoles (14-2, 2-0) won convincingly 64-41 over the Lady Bulldogs (4-13, 1-2).

BOYS

Rockdale 67, Salem 64

Like two world-class Ping-Pong opponents going back and forth at each other, this cross-town matchup became an instant classic.

Despite 16 ties and 23 lead changes, the Bulldogs prevented the upset before a packed house on the road by taking advantage of key situations, particularly on the glass.

Rockdale secured twice as many rebounds (35) as Salem, including 19 offensive boards leading to a handful of easy baskets.

"It meant a lot to see our team keep its composure in a hostile environment," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "Salem, as well as Heritage, is a tough place to play at. It's good to have rival games - that's what playing sports is all about. It would have been nice for the game to not be so close in the end, but it was a great atmosphere for everyone involved because the game came down to the wire."

Rockdale improved to 2-0 against county rivals after edging Heritage on the road Friday 62-61.

"Just about every one has been like that, just an intense game, but I think that truly may have been the best of them all," Salem coach Darren Wilkins said. "We've been through some good ones. I know that's the biggest crowd we've had since I've been the head coach, and the biggest basketball crowd since our athletic director has been here. So you combine that and it was a great night for basketball."

After a rapid start, Rockdale sophomore Kevin Ware powered a monster dunk - one of four on the night - to tie it at 18, ending the opening quarter.

Jonathan Gissentanner gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game 27-18 with four minutes and 43 seconds until halftime after hitting consecutive 3-pointers.

Yet the Seminoles retaliated with a 9-0 run of their own, forcing several turnovers compliments of their full-court press. A free throw by Salem's Terrence Bennett tied it at 27 with 1:23 remaining before halftime.

Ware countered with a jumper, suspending himself in the air just long enough to get the shot off and giving Rockdale a 29-27 cushion at the break.

After several lead changes to begin the third stanza, Rockdale led 36-32 before Salem went on an 11-4 run.

A 3-pointer by Robert Hunter put the Seminoles ahead 43-40 before Gissentanner responded with his third trey of the night.

Jasijah Smith added a deep ball of his own to give Salem a 48-45 lead entering the fourth quarter.

A field goal by Tevin Bradley (13 points) made it 52-47 to give the Seminoles their biggest lead of the night. However, the Bulldogs regained the lead yet again 53-52 after a basket by Byron Lawrence with 4:04 remaining.

Five different lead changes later and with just 30 seconds left in the game, Ware stole the inbounds pass, driving the length of the court for the dunk only to be intentionally fouled.

Before a rancorous crowd and all alone on the charity stripe, Ware sank one of two, connecting with the eventual game-winning free throw to put his team up 63-62.

"It was a good win for us being we played so bad in the first three quarters, but we finally turned it on in the fourth." Ware said. "We could have played a lot better, but a win is a win."

"When I was at the free-throw line, I just tried to block out all the loudness and everything going on with the fans, and just knock them down so we could go home."

Ware finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots.

Gissentanner added a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds for Rockdale. Lawrence ended with 12 points, including four steals.

Salem's Jarrett Brown scored a team-high 18 points. Anthony Armstrong added 11, while Smith had nine points.

GIRLS

Salem 64, Rockdale 41

Double and triple-teamed all evening long and held to just seven points in the first half, senior Precious Elkins scored 17 in the second half to propel the Lady Seminoles to their fourth straight win.

"They had a good game plan. They really did a good job with their game plan in the first half," Salem coach Bill Roberts said. "In the second half, we started getting the ball more in better places. We slowly started putting points on them, and they had to go from man to press, and they couldn't press us."

Rockdale posted an early 6-2 lead thanks to a field goal by Porshia McCray. Salem's Shardai Harrison soon tied it at 6 with 1:46 left in the first quarter.

Fifteen seconds and two free throws later by Harrison gave the Lady Seminoles the lead for good.

Harrison finished with 15 points and five rebounds.

Salem extended its lead by 13 in the second stanza after a 3-pointer by Elkins with 2:01 left until halftime. Rockdale cut the deficit 28-18 by intermission with a field goal by Lauren Stewart.

In the first half the Lady Seminoles scored 16 points off 15 turnovers. Overall, they forced 28 turnovers en route to 25 points.

The closest Rockdale crept came after a pair of free throws by Keeisha Foreman to make it 39-31 with 3:11 remaining in the third.

However, a 14-2 run by Salem in the fourth quarter, including 12 points from Elkins, was enough to secure the win.

Along with her game-high 24 points, Elkins had nine boards. Ariel Wynter added 13 points and three blocked shots.

Miasia Burks led the Lady Bulldogs with 12 points and seven rebounds. Aselah Mazone chipped in 10 points.

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.