Lovejoy girls defeat Rockdale, advance to Class AAAAAA state finals

Written by Clayton News Daily’s Colin Hubbard,  Staff Correspondent Mar 6, 2022

CARROLLTON — Bryana Preston would not be denied a trip to the Class AAAAAA state championship game Saturday afternoon against Rockdale County.

The standout sophomore scored early and often on her way to game-high 30 points and helped the Wildcats to a dominant wire-to-wire 71-56 victory over the Bulldogs in the Final Four at West Georgia.

They will now tangle with Sequoyah next Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex looking for their first state championship since the 2017-18 season.

Looking to establish themselves early, Preston and the Wildcats jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game and never looked back. They thwarted a Rockdale County first-quarter run sparked by fellow standout sophomore Danielle Carnegie, who paced the Bulldogs with 26 points and led 19-11 heading into the second.

Holding onto a 25-20 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Wildcats put their foot on the gas. Senior Keyra Peterson knocked down corner three-pointers on each of their next two offensive possessions to stretch their lead back out to 11 points, 31-20.

With the Wildcats back in control, they poured in eight more points before the half and took a commanding 39-23 lead into the break.

The second half was played much tighter between the two Final Four foes.

Rockdale scored on each of its first two possessions to start the third quarter, but the momentum didn’t last for long. With Lovejoy leading 49-35, Preston drove strong to the basket and scored while getting fouled to increase the Lovejoy lead to 17 points, its largest of the game.

By the end of the third quarter, it led by 16, 55-39 and was closing in on its first trip to the state championship game since the 2018-19 season.

With just under five minutes remaining in the game, another and-1 by the Wildcats increased their lead to 18, 63-45. From there, the Bulldogs managed to trim the Wildcats’ lead to 11 with 1:42 remaining when Mariyah Moore buried a corner 3-pointer.

But the comeback attempt was too little, too late as Preston and the Wildcats converted all of their free throws down the stretch to close the game out with a wire-to-wire victory.

Preston (30 points) was joined in double figures by Peterson and Laniya Foster, who both scored 15 points.

After losing in the Final Four last season to Carrollton, the Wildcats now will likely enter the Class AAAAAA state championship as the favorite when they take on Sequoyah.

They will carry an 18-game winning streak into the state championship dating back to early January.