Decatur High senior Jordan Dillard turned her ankle Tuesday against Fannin County, and even came to school the next day on crutch.
She traded in her crutch Friday night for the best game of her varsity career, scoring a career-high 34 in leading Decatur to a 57-50 victory over Sonoraville in round two of the state playoffs.
“She just put together a great game from start to finish,” said Decatur coach Bill Roberts. “Competitively, she just turned into a beast. It wasn’t just the points, it was the leadership that she showed. She just willed this team to win. She single-handedly pulled our kids through.”
Decatur will play at Dawson County Tuesday with the time to be determined. Dawson beat North Oconee 58-50 on Friday night. If Decatur wins it advances to the Final Four in Savannah on March 2.
The victory at the tiny Sonoraville High gym puts eighth-ranked Decatur into the state’s Elite Eight. This is probably the first time that's happened since Decatur won the 1972 state championship, led by another elite player, the late Pearl Worrell.
Fifth-ranked Sonoraville, which came into this game with an 18-game winning streak, finishes the season at 28-2.
Sonoraville opened with its signature full-court press, which Decatur point guard Jayla Morrow shredded. Five minutes into the game Sonoraville quietly folded up the press and the game became a half-court test of wills.
The game was 27-27 halftime. Decatur edged ahead and, thanks to three-pointers from Kori Anderson and Kayla Thomas, led 41-37 after three quarters. Decatur never pulled away, but Sonoraville never regained the lead either, thanks to the man-to-man defense Roberts employed the entire game.
“Tonight’s the only time we’ve played man for a full game all year,” said Roberts, whose team had been playing about 90 percent zone in recent weeks, or at least until Tuesday when he switched primarily to man against Fannin County. “Teams who scout us expect us to play zone. Tonight was the right time to change that.”
Sonoraville wouldn’t go away, however, cutting it to one midway through the fourth quarter, then cutting it to 52-50 with 11.1 seconds left.
But Dillard hit a pair of free throws, and with less than a second left Morrow sliced through a forest of Sonoraville arms, scoring the bucket and hitting a free throw to give Decatur the final seven-point margin, its biggest lead of the game.
The freshman Morrow, who played an exemplary floor game, finished with seven points, while fellow freshman Thomas had one of her best games all year with 11 points, four assists and six rebounds. Dillard led all rebounders with eight.
“We preach about it all year,” said Roberts, whose team is now 23-7. “You want to be peaking at tournament time. I would say without a doubt this was our best game to date.
“But,” he added, “we ain’t finished yet.”
Tuesday’s matchup with seventh-ranked Dawson County figures to be a good one if comparing scores is any indication. These two have two common opponents.
Dawson beat Fannin County three times this year, by seven, nine and 19 points. Decatur beat Fannin by 24 last Tuesday.
Both have played Blessed Trinity, with Decatur winning twice, by 11 and six points, while Dawson won by 14 on Tuesday in a first-round playoff game.
One other Region 6-AAA team remains alive. St. Pius X advanced to the Elite Eight with a 55-33 win over Oconee County Friday.