ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The Alpharetta girls reached the quarterfinals of the state basketball playoffs for the first time, winning a pair of games at home last week to set up a showdown with the state’s top-ranked team.
The Lady Raiders were scheduled to play at No. 1 North Gwinnett Tuesday night, Feb. 26, and were looking to avenge a regular season loss to the Bulldogs, who brought a 27-1 record into the game.
Alpharetta was 26-4 after defeating Duluth 69-53 in the first round of the AAAAAA playoffs last Wednesday and Central Gwinnett 57-40 in the second round. North Gwinnett won its first two playoff games by a combined 61 points.
In Feb. 23’s second round game, the Lady Raiders trailed Central Gwinnett 8-7 late in the first period before ending the quarter on a 6-0 run.
It took the cold-shooting Black Knights five minutes of the second period to score again, with Alpharetta running off 18 straight points to take a 25-8 lead. The Raiders drilled three straight three-pointers to start the second half, expanding their advantage to 40-13.
Central Gwinnett hit just one field in a span of some 13-and-a-half minutes, with the Raiders cooling off after building the 27-point lead, managing just three field goals over the last 13-and-a-half minutes to end the game.
Kylee Smith and Lauren Brown outscored Central Gwinnett, teaming up for 42 points. Smith scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half, including 13 in the decisive second period. Smith also took down 13 rebounds and contributed several assists and steals in a strong all-around performance.
Brown, who struggled from the field for most of the first half, scored the last 10 of Alpharetta’s 13 points in the third period, including back-to-back three pointers. She finished with 17 points.
Central Gwinnett (19-11) never got closer than 16 points, with the Raiders hitting eight of their last 10 free throws to maintain a comfortable lead.
The Raiders pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat Duluth (18-11) in their state playoff opener. Smith scored 23 points, including a three-point basket and three-point play late in the second period to give the Raiders a 34-31 halftime lead.
Brown added 14 points, including eight in the third period as the Raiders stretched their lead to 50-41.
Alpharetta maintained a consistent lead throughout the final period, hitting 14 of 18 free throws. The Raiders were 30 of 41 for the game, aggressively going to the basket to draw fouls in the first three quarters and frustrating Duluth’s comeback attempt with accurate free throw shooting in the fourth period.
Vash Perry contributed 13 points for the Region 6-AAAAAA champion Lady Raiders, including a three-pointer to begin the fourth quarter.
The Raiders have made the state playoffs in each of the four seasons Smith and Brown have played on the varsity, losing in the second round each of the last two years.
The winner of the Alpharetta-North Gwinnett game will play Saturday at Georgia Tech against either Tift County or North Cobb, both champions of their regions. No. 3-ranked Norcross, which defeated unbeaten and second-ranked Parkview in the second round, is the most likely team to reach the finals from the opposite bracket.
The state championship game will be played March 9 in Macon.