CALHOUN, Ga. - It was only 15 seconds of playing time, but in those few ticks was clear evidence of why the Calhoun Yellow Jackets are celebrating their second consecutive Region 7-AA boys' basketball title following a 55-50 win over Model on Tuesday.
Having seen a 14-point third-period lead evaporate, Vince Layson's team did what it knows best. Keyth Fightmaster blocked a would-be go-ahead layup, the ball ending up in the hands of Chandler Curtis, who accelerated and brought the packed house down with a dunk and 52-50 lead with 2:17 to play. The Blue Devils would not score again.
"Defense has been our cornerstone all year," Layson said with a deep breath. "Model's a great team, and we're evenly matched offensively, but I feel we can get the edge on them defensively. There were several loose balls at the end we got, which was big because a possession here or there was the difference."
Calhoun (22-2) will play the fourth seed from Region 5 in Saturday's opening round of the Class AA state playoffs, and the win also means the Jackets will avoid top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian in the second round.
Calhoun built a steady lead in the first three and a half quarters behind Jireh Wilson's hot shooting and Kaelen Riley's daredevil drives to the basket. Back-to-back Wilson 3-pointers early in the second half gave the Jackets a 38-24 lead, but Model's V.J. Saxton and Robert Pearson turned the game with a combined 11 points in a 16-6 run to end the period.
Pearson scored eight consecutive Model points in the final period, his 3-pointer at the 2:48 mark tying the game at 50. On the next possession Model's Tyler Dean stole the ball at midcourt, but his layup attempt was tipped by Fightmaster, leading to Curtis' go-ahead dunk. Calhoun forward Austin Byrd sealed the win with a steal, the perfect ending for the defensive-minded Jackets.
"Our defense is what gets us wins, bottom line," said Byrd, who with 10 points was one of four Calhoun double-figure scorers. "It feels good to go back to back. It was a hot game in front of a great crowd. Model matches up with us well, so this was a great challenge for us."
Wilson topped Calhoun with 14 points, with Riley adding 11 and Curtis 10. Pearson led Model (22-3) with 16 points.
Earlier Tuesday, Dade County earned the region's No. 3 seed with a one-point win over Coosa after trailing by 17 at halftime.
In the girls' championship game, Calhoun nearly made it two rallies in two nights but fell short against Pepperell, 43-40.
The Lady Yellow Jackets, who scored the game's final 18 points Monday to stun Armuchee, trailed by eight entering the final quarter Tuesday but were within one with six seconds to play. However, two missed free throws let the possible win slip away.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.