ROCKMART — For nearly three quarters, the Rockmart girls’ basketball team fought to keep their hope of a spot in the Class AA state quarterfinals alive.
The battle against East Laurens came down to the final period, where Keyarah Berry handed off the momentum to her teammates and the Lady Jackets came from behind for a 64-58 Sweet 16 win in front of a roaring home crowd Thursday.
With her team down by six, Rockmart’s Megan Little opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and the rest of the Lady Jackets followed suit as they outscored the visiting Lady Falcons 23-11 in the final eight minutes.
Rockmart coach Andre Clark said he told his team that the fourth quarter was their time to take off, focusing on defense and taking it one possession at a time.
“And I had to tell Megan Little when I pulled her to the side I said, ‘listen, you are a shooter. You need to make a shot.’ And she turned around and hit that three. And that kind of ignited us and got things going for us,” Clark said.
The Lady Jackets (22-6) trailed 11-10 after the first quarter and trailed by as many as seven in the second and third. Berry, Rockmart’s all-time leading scorer, had 22 points at halftime and pushed to finish many coast-to-coast possessions in order to keep her team in the game and down 30-24 at the break.
The contributions of Berry’s teammates, however, pulled Rockmart out of its funk in the second half.
Little hit a trey with 11 seconds to go in the third period that got the Lady Jackets within four of East Laurens, 45-41, before Kristen Hubbard completed a jump shot at the buzzer to bring the Lady Eagles’ advantage back to six.
“Listen, it was intense. It was nerve racking. But I kept telling the girls I knew if we kept fighting that at some point they were going to break because they were exerting a lot of energy on fouls and everything,” Clark said. “I knew if we could keep it close and get to the end that we would have a shot.”
East Laurens (16-12) was up 52-48 with 4:28 left to play when Logan Adams made a layup off a sharp pass from Berry to start a 9-2 Rockmart run that ultimately proved the difference.
Clark said he knew Berry’s physicality was going to be their best way to counter East Laurens’ aggressive play. The Lady Falcons had upset Thomasville 50-41 in the first round.
“I told Keyarah if you can just hold on that Megan will win the game or Logan Adams or one of the other shooters will win the game in the fourth quarter, but you’ve got to get us there,” Clark said. “You’re going to have to … hold it down until we put them in the zone. And they went zone in the second half, and you see the result of it.”
Berry finished with 41 points and went 12-of-15 from the foul line to go along with three 3-pointers. Little scored 15 points and had a pair of 3s.
Brandi Jones went 6-for-6 from the line in the final two quarters for Rockmart, including hitting both free throws with 17.2 seconds left that stood as the final points in the game.
East Laurens was led by Hubbard and Ikeria Hamilton, who each had 18 points. Scotteria Rozier finished with 17.
Rockmart will travel to No. 8 Vidalia on Tuesday as they play in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row and just the second time in program history. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.