CARTERSVILLE — The Calhoun Yellow Jackets faced deficits late in the fourth quarter and in overtime on Friday night in their Region 7-AAAAA Championship Game affair against Blessed Trinity at Cartersville High. But much like they did all season, the Jackets stared straight into the face of that adversity and simply said ‘no problem.’
Calhoun got a string of clutch plays late in regulation and in the final minute of overtime to rally for a dramatic 50-45 victory over the Titans and claim the Region 7-AAAAA title on Friday in front of a loud and energetic atmosphere at The Storm Center.
Trailing 41-37 with just over a minute left in regulation, Calhoun (15-10) got a steal and bucket from Blaze Hammett to pull within two with a minute to play. After getting the ball back following a stop and coming up empty offensively, it appeared that Blessed Trinity was headed for a breakaway lay-up to push their lead to four and all but put the game away, but Calhoun’s Peyton Law flew down the court, launched into the air and made an incredible block to deny the would-be bucket for the Titans.
On the ensuing possession, it was a freshman that stepped up for the Jackets as Daniel Streete drove to the basket to hit a runner with 31.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 41-41. Calhoun proceeded to get another huge defensive stop to force overtime.
In the extra session, Blessed Trinity (18-8) got the first basket to take the lead 43-41, but once again Calhoun didn’t let the pressure of the situation get to them as they continued to work hard on both ends and eventually got to the free throw line multiple times with Dylan Faulkner knocking down a perfect 6-for-6 free throws and adding a put-back to score eight of the team’s nine overtime points to seal the comeback win.
“One of our mottos all season has been ‘master the boring,’” said Calhoun head coach Vince Layson. “To us, that meant doing the little things like rebounding, making free throws and playing hard defense. It’s not things that show up big in the stats, but it’s what you have to do to win games. That is what I kept telling our guys in those final timeouts in the fourth quarter and overtime. We had to do those things to win this game, and our guys responded by getting some huge rebounds, getting stops, forcing turnovers and making free throws, and that’s why we were able to win this game.”
Layson added that there were question about how successful his team would be before the season as they bumped up to Class AAAAA and into a brand new region with some very good teams and there were also doubts during the season as his team battled right around the .500 mark, but his team remained focused on getting better and trying to achieve one goal at a time and the result in the end was a region title.
“We had a lot of unknowns coming into a really good region, and there were a lot of people that didn’t know how we would do against such talented teams,” said Layson. “But we remained humble and focused for the most part and just tried to control what we could control, which was trying to get better every day and try to play our best basketball at the right time. Our first goal was to be in that top four to get to the state tournament. Then we started to progress through the region tournament this week, and our next goal was to get in that region championship game. Once we beat Hiram on Wednesday to get to the finals, we just sat back and said ‘why not us?’ So we set that goal to win the region title, and we were able to check one more box off tonight. I’m so proud of our kids and the way they did anything and everything they could to make this region championship happen.”
Calhoun and Blessed Trinity battled back and forth in the first quarter of Friday’s game with the Jackets scoring the final four points of the period to take a slim 15-14 lead going to the second. They continued that momentum into the second quarter, reeling off a 6-0 run to open the period before eventually taking a 27-22 advantage into the half.
Blessed Trinity grabbed the momentum in the third quarter, scoring the final seven points in the period to turn the scoreboard around and take a 34-32 lead into the final quarter of regulation. After Calhoun took a 37-34 lead early in the fourth, the Titans once again jumped on top with a 7-0 run to go ahead 41-37 and set up the final sequence of clutch plays in the last few minutes by the Jackets to force overtime.
Layson said those plays, including Hammett’s steal and lay-up, Law’s Block, Streete’s late bucket and Faulkner’s overtime efforts all played such a crucial part in the championship victory.
“You have to have plays like that to win such a crazy game like we had tonight,” said Layson. “That block Peyton had was huge because it was such a momentum swing. And then Daniel…for him to be a freshman, he really doesn’t show it. He has the moxy of a senior. He gave us really good minutes tonight and some of those were guarding the region player of the year. For a freshman to take on that challenge, he never let it faze him. And I’ve said all year that Dylan has been our rock offensively. He had some tough breaks early in the game. He didn’t get some calls, and he had guys hanging on him on rebounds. But he battled through it and showed leadership. He made some huge plays…rebounds and clutch free throws. He’s a big-time player.”
The sophomore forward Faulkner led the Jackets in scoring with 17 points, eight coming in overtime. The calm, cool and collected sophomore said he didn’t do anything special or make things bigger in his mind than they had to be in such a pressure-packed game. Instead, he said he just went back to his fundamentals.
“I just went back to practice mode really,” said Faulkner. “It was about trusting myself and relying on my teammates to help put us in situations to make plays like we did. I don’t really know what to say…we just did what we knew were supposed to do, and it was a great victory for all of us. It shows what the hard work we put in can do. Now, we are looking for bigger things to come.”
Law was also in double figures in scoring for Calhoun with 11 points, including hitting three 3-pointers. Hammett added seven points, and Streete and Christopher Lewis each scored five. Law, a junior, said he wasn’t worried at all when he looked up at the scoreboard and saw his team trailing late because he knew they could come through in crunch time to complete the comeback.
“We’ve honestly been in that situation so many times and were able to get it done,” said Law. “We never gave up tonight, and now we’re region champs. (On the block) it was huge because we would’ve been down even more in the last minute of the fourth. We went down on the other end and scored, and it turned the game around. We had so many guys step up tonight to win this region title. It means a lot to us. To be the first team to win a region title in AAAAA is something we’re proud of. We had a streak of six straight region titles for Calhoun Boys’ Basketball a few years ago that got snapped. We want to start a new streak.”
Blessed Trinity’s top score in the contest was Ben Hamacher with 22 points, including knocking down four 3s. Jonathan Franchi added nine points, and Jax Bouknight contributed eight. Bouknight, the Region 7-AAAAA Player of the Year, was a focus of Calhoun’s defense, especially in the second half and overtime as they limited him to just two points.
With the region championship trophy now in their possession, Calhoun will aim to keep the momentum rolling into the Class AAAAA State Tournament which opens this coming week. The Jackets will enter as the top seed from 7-AAAAA and host Chapel Hill, the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAAAA, in the first round on either Tuesday or Wednesday with a time to be announced. Layson said his team should have a lot of confidence coming off their region tournament run.
“If you can’t play with confidence going forward from here after what we accomplished this week, I’m not sure if you will ever be confident,” said Layson. “We are playing our best basketball and at the right time. We need to keep that momentum going in to State. We’ve had success with region titles in the past, but this team has so many young guys playing big minutes that this is really their first taste of that kind of success. I think that should give those younger guys the confidence they need from here on out. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the state tournament.”
“We’re very confident,” added Law. “We know if we play up to our full potential we can play with anybody. We’re a hard team to beat when we play together.”
Blessed Trinity gets the No. 2 seed from 7-AAAAA and will host Region 6-AAAAA No. 3 seed Lithia Springs in the first round of the Class AAAAA State Tournament.
In the Calhoun-Cartersville girls third-place game earlier on Friday:
Calhoun Girls 57, Cartersville 44
The Lady Jackets didn’t waste and time or energy worrying about what happened on Wednesday. Instead they used their semifinal loss to Hiram as motivation and finished the Region 7-AAAAA Tournament strong on Friday afternoon to earn a victory in the third-place game.
Calhoun (16-11) built a solid lead in the first half of Friday’s battle for third place, leading 32-16 at the break, and never allowed Cartersville to get back within striking distance of a comeback with a steady effort over the final two quarters. After leading 40-29 at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Jackets put an exclamation point on the win by outscoring the Lady Hurricanes (6-15) 17-15 in the fourth.
Leading Calhoun with a big offensive night was Britiya Curtis with 27 points, including knocking down three 3s. Lyndi Rae Davis was also in double figures in points with 16, and Lauren Watson added nine.
Lehla Thomas was the top scorer for Cartersville with 17 points. Miyah Moore added 11, and Kiera Milline contributed eight.
Calhoun will now turn their attention to the Class AAAAA State Tournament, which they will enter as the No. 3 seed from 7-AAAAA. They will visit Jackson (Atlanta), the No. 2 seed from 6-AAAAA), in the first round on either Tuesday or Wednesday with a time to be announced.
Calhoun Boys 50, Blessed Trinity 45
BLESSED TRINITY (45)
Bouknight 8, Hamacher 22, Hughes 2, Weaver 2, Franchi 9, Rogers 2
Streete 5, Law 11, Christopher Lewis 5, Prather 3, Gray 2, Hammett 7, Faulkner 17
B.T. 14 8 12 7 4—45
Cal. 15 12 5 9 9—50
3-pointers – Blessed Trinity 5 (Hamacher 4, Franchi 1); Calhoun 5 (Law 3, Streete 1, Lewis 1), Free Throws – Blessed Trinity 2-9; Calhoun 13-19, Records – Calhoun 15-10.
Calhoun Girls 57, Cartersville 44
Milline 8, McConnell 2, Griffin 2, Thomas 17, Olotu 4, Moore 11
Greeson 3, Mashburn 2, Davis 16, Watson 9, Curtis 27
Cart. 8 8 13 15—44
Cal. 14 18 8 17—57
3-pointers – Cartersville 2 (Moore 2); Calhoun 4 (Curtis 3, Watson 1), Free Throws – Cartersville 8-13; Calhoun 9-16, Records – Calhoun 16-11.