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Phoenix rise up to region title
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Statesboro High's Trayveon Burns, center, tries to muscle his way to the hoop between New Hampstead defenders Sam Brown, left, and Dontavian Leach during the fourth quarter of Saturday's region championship game in Satesboro. New Hampstead defeated the Devils and will be the region's top seed in the state tournament. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff


The saying goes that it’s tough to beat a good team three times, and that saying came true Saturday night.


Statesboro High had knocked off New Hampstead twice during the regular season in claiming the region title, but Saturday night the Phoenix made the third time a charm for themselves in capturing the region tournament championship with a 63-47 victory over Statesboro.


The Phoenix beat the Blue Devils at their own game, using a pressure man-to-man defense, and attacking the boards, out-rebounding Statesboro by a 35-20 margin.


New Hampstead also held Statesboro to only 4-of-18 (22 percent) from the 3-point line. Statesboro’s leading scorer, Daniel Cooper — who came into Saturday's game averaging over 18 points per game —  was limited to just four points, all of which came from the foul line.


“We struggled shooting from the start,” said Statesboro coach Lee Hill. “They seemed like they wanted this game more than we did. That is a good team.”


Statesboro came out flat aside from sophomore Zarion Griffin, who scored all nine of the Blue Devils' points in the first quarter. But the Phoenix got off to a much more successful start and claimed a 17-9 lead through the first eight minutes of play.


The Phoenix kept the pressure up in the second quarter. A dunk by Samuel Brown gave New Hampstead a 23-12 lead. Statesboro battled back, getting within six at the half as senior Tray Burns hit a putback, and the score was 25-19 at the half.


In the second half the Phoenix started getting some separation. Kadari Mitchell hit a couple of layups, and then a three pointer to extend the New Hampstead lead to 44-30. Statesboro hung on as Burns was fouled shooting a three at the buzzer. A bloody nose put Griffin on the line for Burns, he hit all three free throws and Statesboro trailed 46-33 after three.


In the fourth Phoenix sophomore Dontavian Leach took over, driving to the basket for eight of his 18 points. Statesboro remained ice cold from the field and ended up falling by 16 points.


“We played poor defensively, and couldn’t score on offense,” Hill said. “They killed us on the boards and New Hampstead came to play tonight. I was really impressed with the play of Samuel Brown.”


Griffin led the way for Statesboro with 14 points, Burns added 12. Brown had 18 for New Hampstead.


The loss puts Statesboro as the No.2 seed in next week’s state tournament, they will host Bainbridge who earned the No.3 seed out of Region 1. The game will be Saturday at a yet to be determined time.