Mitchell comes back strong to lead Salem over Rockdale

Ayanna Mitchell had a rare single-digit scoring game Friday in a win over Loganville. The Rockdale girls had no such luck with the Salem star Saturday. Mitchell contributed 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Seminoles rolled to their 13th consecutive victory 64-31 at Cleveland Stroud Gymnasium.

Mitchell, who was held to five points against Loganville, had that point total bested less than four minutes into the game as her bucket at the 4:10 mark gave Salem (15-2) the lead for good.

Salem, which hasn’t lost since November 23, kept up its dominant defensive season, holding its ninth opponent to 35 points or less. The Seminoles kept Rockdale from converting a field goal for more than half the game, a 16-minute stretch that saw the Seminoles build a cushion as large as 60-23 with 3:26 to go in the game.

Rockdale also went nine and a half minutes without a point, including just a single free throw in the third quarter. Brianna Patton broke the scoring drought by hitting 1-of-2 from the charity stripe at the 1:11 mark of the third, then Casera Howard hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth, the first of which broke the field goal spell with 4:30 to go.

Rockdale (9-6) got as close as 16-14 on Patton’s 3-pointer with 1:28 to play in the opening quarter. Salem struggled early from behind the arc, but a 3-pointer by Saaliyah Greene with 28 seconds remaining in the first was part of a 10-0 run that put Salem up 26-14 early in the second.

While the host Bulldogs had their first field goal drought, going 4:38 without a basket, and had just one made bucket in the second quarter, Salem got a pair of lay ups from Greene and put backs from Mitchell and Rosie Kyles during a 12-3, half-closing run that sent the Seminoles into the halftime locker room up 38-19.

Shay Tarver did a little bit of everything for Salem, chipping in with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Greene had nine points and Kyles and Taylor King contributed eight points each.

Patton led Rockdale with 12 points.

Salem completed the sweep with a 51-45 victory in the nightcap as the Seminoles’ top two players played a vital role in the fourth quarter.

In the third quarter, Quintavius Byrd had two points and Austin Samuel was held scoreless, but the final eight minutes were a different story as the pair combined for 15 of Salem’s 20 points.

Salem (6-12) trailed by a single point after three, but Samuel had a strong drive for a lay up and completed a three-point play, then had a put back to put the Seminoles up 38-34.

Byrd hit a 3-pointer to give the visitors a 41-34 advantage with 5:12 left, and though Rockdale guard Jalen Jordan had a nice pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer to make it a 41-39 game at the 4:07 mark, the Bulldogs didn’t get any closer.

Byrd, who led all scorers with 21 points, knocked down another 3-pointer, the second time Kristopher Bridgeman had assisted on a Byrd three, and Samuel had a bucket to push the margin back out to 46-39 with 3:16 remaining. Brian Jessie’s tough runner in the lane and two free throws made it a 46-43 contest before Samuel, Demyon Greenwood and Bridgeman combined to go 5-of-6 from the free-throw line over the final minute to seal the win.

Ray Washington put Rockdale up 30-28 with a steal and a field goal at the 2:57 mark of the third quarter and the Bulldogs held a slim, 32-31 lead heading into the final period.

Rockdale (6-13) had just two field goals over the first eight minutes, though the hosts got a break with .3 seconds to play in the opening quarter. Adam Ellis went up for a desperation 3-pointer that was well short, but Ellis was fouled and his three free throws helped Rockdale close to within 11-7 after one.

Salem’s first-half lead grew to 19-12 when Bridgeman and Robert Baker each hit a nice jump shot two minutes into the second quarter. Rockdale stayed in the game, thanks in large part to its work from the free throw line. The Bulldogs only knocked down five shots in the opening half, and though they were 11-of-17 from the line, Jamal Turner’s two charity shots capped a 10-3 spurt and tied the game at 22-22 with 1:10 to go until halftime. Byrd capped a 13-point first half with a jumper and two free throws to give Salem a 26-22 halftime cushion.

Jordan and Jessie had eight points apiece to lead Rockdale, which dropped its third consectuive game.