Megan Little brought a cautious Lady Jackets squad out of a funk with a surge in the second period and Keyarah Berry broke through in the final quarter to lead Rockmart to a 63-55 win over Elbert County in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs.
Making the Elite Eight is just the latest achievement for a team that kicked off the postseason by winning the program’s first region girls’ basketball title since 1961.
“It’s been good so far,” Rockmart coach Tim Puckett said. “I think the girls are relishing the moment but they know they have some unfinished business to take care of. They are one of the most humble teams I’ve had, and they’ve progressed throughout the season with a set of goals that they want to accomplish.”
Two players who have been a major part of Rockmart’s success are Berry and Little, sophomores that Puckett said have shown them they are more mature than their age. The pair combined to score 55 of the team’s 63 points, with Berry scoring 30 points and Little chipping in for 25.
“They did a tremendous job tonight,” Puckett said. “They are fearless and selfless. Although they’re sophomores they play like they’re seniors.”
Emma Evans was next for Rockmart with five points, while Elbert County was led by Jemiya Turman’s 16.
Elbert County (12-18) took advantage of some early Rockmart setbacks as the visiting Lady Blue Devils beat the home team on the boards and in the turnover game to build a 9-2 lead after three minutes of play. Rockmart (20-7) recovered and ended the opening period on a 9-3 run to close within one of the lead, 12-11.
With Berry being challenged from getting inside, Little found her opening in the second quarter, scoring 12 points — including two 3-pointers and going 4 for 5 at the line — to key a 15-2 run for the Lady Jackets to end the first half and put Rockmart up 33-22.
“That’s just her,” Puckett said of Little’s part of the surge. “I told her during the first timeout that they were overplaying Keyarah so you’re the open player. And good players make shots. It was great to see her working inside and out. She went to the line several times and made free throws that gave us a cushion to work with.”
Elbert County kept the pressure on in the third period and cut the Lady Jackets’ lead to eight heading into the fourth before getting within four — 47-51 — with 5:03 left following a trey from Turman.
Berry then found her path to the basket, scoring 10 of her 13 fourth-quarter points in the final five minutes and keeping her team ahead.
Rockmart will next host Laney in the quarterfinals either Tuesday or Wednesday. The two-time Class AA state champions defeated Swainsboro 72-55 on Wednesday.
Puckett said the playoff wins are special, but he is quick to remind his players of their responsibility at this point in the season.
“It’s one of those things that, as a coach, you definitely enjoy, but I told them this is one of those moments where there is really very little coaching left that we can do. It’s up to you to make it happen on the court,” he said.