TIFTON -- A 21-4 first-quarter deficit couldn't knock out Valdosta High's boys. But ultimately, a 7-2 run in the final three minutes did.
Valdosta's season came to an end with a 61-55 loss to Morrow Friday evening in the first round of the AAAAA state playoffs.
The Wildcats trailed by as many as 17 points, cut the deficit to just two with 3:48 left, but in the end, the Region 2-AAAAA champions held off the fourth-seeded Wildcats.
"We couldn't even quite recover from our slow start," Valdosta head coach John Miller said. "But I'm really proud of these young men. They battled back, and cut it to two. If we could've gotten a break here or there, we'd have been in it (at the end)."
In the first couple minutes of the game, Valdosta got baskets from seniors Carlton Williams and Darius King to take a 4-2 lead. Then Morrow exploded.
The Mustangs got a three-pointer from Ronald Aguilar, then consecutive baskets from Adrian Grishby, Richard Jennings and Omar Stephens. And the baskets kept coming. Grishby and Jennings with layups, Stephens with a three-pointer, and Grishby with a three-point play. Morrow scored 19 straight points and took a 21-4 lead. The game seemed all but over.
But it wasn't over, even after Morrow went up 28-8 in the first minute of the second quarter. First, Valdosta had a 6-0 run. Then later in the quarter, Williams and Chauncey Jones heated up. Williams and Jones hit pullup jumpers. Then King hit a jump shot. Williams followed with two free throws. Then Jones hit banked in a shot off the glass, and 23 seconds later, Williams found a streaking Jones under the basket for a layup. Morrow's big lead was down to five, 33-28.
"I'm real proud of the effort," Miller said. "It would have been real easy to lay down once we got down 21-4 in the first quarter. But the young men battled back, and played extremely hard in getting us back in the game.
"The true Wildcat spirit came out in them. We talk about being a Wildcat, never giving up. That goes back to Coach Hyder. The young men lived that philosophy, and they battled back."
The Wildcats' 12-0 run had put them back in the game, even after Morrow's Calvin Goss hit a three-pointer from the corner at the halftime buzzer to make it 36-28.
Morrow came out focused in the second half, though, and quickly got the lead back to 14, 47-33. Valdosta responded with a 7-0 run to cut its deficit back into single digits. Morrow led 49-40 heading into the fourth quarter.
But then a determined Valdosta bunch made its final stand. Senior Cedric Hill scored inside and made a free throw. Then Williams sank a jumper.
Then Hill caught Williams' throw-in in the air and shot it through the hoop, cutting Morrow's lead to four, 51-47.
Morrow rushed down, trying to catch Valdosta out of position, but instead turned the ball over. The Wildcats beat the Morrow press, and Antonio Tillman got the ball on a 2-on-1 break. Tillman laid the ball in, and the 'Cats trailed by just two.
But that's as close as VHS got. The shots stopped falling for Valdosta, and Morrow went on a 7-2 run, to take a seven-point lead. The Wildcats would not get closer than five again.
Jones, Williams and Tillman led Valdosta with 10 points each. Stephens led four Mustangs in double figures with 15 points.
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