ROCKMART — Coach Vic Calhoun tried to find out if Rockmart’s boys’ basketball team had ever been to the state quarterfinals prior to his team’s game against Northeast-Macon.
While he never quite confirmed the last time the Jackets made the Elite Eight, he is pretty certain of when the next time is going to be.
Rockmart deflected a challenge from the visiting Raiders in the Sweet 16 on Thursday and held on to win 55-50 to earn a spot in the Class AA Elite Eight for the first time in recent memory.
It didn’t come easy as the Jackets battled foul trouble and a tenacious Northeast squad that had upset Early County 60-58 in the first round last week.
Senior point guard Juke Boozer picked up his third foul late in the second quarter and then was called for his fourth just 40 seconds into the second half, forcing him to sit out until the start of the fourth period. Tyler Rowland picked up his third and fourth in the third period.
“We looked up at one point and we didn’t have a senior on the floor,” Calhoun said. “But we were able to keep the lead, run some clock and get to the fourth quarter where we could get those seniors back in the basketball game.”
Rockmart (18-10) stayed upbeat and matched the Raiders point-for-point in the third period and got a strong start to the fourth to go up 45-32 with 5:32 to go. But some unsafe passes by the Jackets led to turnovers, and Northeast (12-15) took advantage, going on a 13-1 run that pulled them within one of the lead, 46-45.
Sherman Davis and Jakari Clark helped break Rockmart’s daze and outscore the Raiders 9-5 in the final two and a half minutes, sealing the win.
“The way that they finished and fought and battled through the adversity of the run through some questionable calls, I just couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Calhoun said.
The Jackets’ first big push came in the second quarter when their defense held Northeast nearly scoreless. Keyshaun McCollough sparked a 12-2 run that lasted nearly the entire period before the Raiders’ Carlos Hopkins hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go to make it 28-19 at the half.
Clark led the Jackets with 13 points, while Boozer was next with 10. Davis and McCollough each finished with nine, while Rowland fouled out in the fourth quarter with eight points.
“It’s huge for our program and for these kids,” Calhoun said. “This senior class is just, they’re awesome kids. They’ve worked so hard from this past summer on.”
Northeast’s Travion Solomon scored a game-high 20 points, including going 9-for-9 at the line and scoring 13 points in the final period. Milandre Pettigrew was next for the Raiders with nine points.
Rockmart’s next challenge will come on the road as the Jackets will face No. 1 Swainsboro in the Elite Eight next week. A date and time has not been set, but it will be either Tuesday or Wednesday.