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Richmond Hill edges Statesboro

    GUYTON — In a title matchup that went down to the wire, Richmond Hill found a hero at just the right time.
    With Saturday’s Region 2-AAAA championship tied at 48-48 with 8.8 seconds to go, Alex Cruz drove the length of the court to put in a layup and give the Wildcats the lead with 1.3 seconds to go.
    Statesboro attempted to call a timeout, but had none remaining and were assessed with a technical foul. The Blue Devils never touched the ball again and Richmond Hill sank a pair of free throws to earn a 52-48 win and the region championship.
    “That wasn’t the outcome that we were looking for, but I’m still proud of our players,” said SHS coach Lee Hill. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here. We played hard to get here and kept fighting through the whole game.”
    Trailing 48-42 with less than 20 seconds to go, the Devils nearly pulled off their comeback attempt.
    Yakeem Coleman hit a 3 with 14.2 seconds to play, and after stealing the Wildcat inbounds pass, Jaqawn Raymond — who led SHS with 18 points — was fouled on a 3-point attempt. Raymond calmly sank all three free throws to pull the Devils even with 8.8 seconds to play, but the Cruz and the Wildcats had a bit more magic up their sleeves.
    Statesboro looked to have picked up where Friday’s semifinal win over Brunswick left off as Raymond — who scored 35 points Friday — drilled a 3-pointer to give the Devils an early 4-1 lead, but the Wildcats came storming back.
    After Raymond’s second foul in the first three minutes forced him to the bench, the SHS offense stalled while Richmond Hill found its groove.
    Cruz, Vernon Wilson and James Franklin all hit shots within a 45-second span to put the Wildcats in front.
    Richmond Hill continued to run with the momentum and Lorenzo Ross’s steal and dunk just before the first quarter buzzer gave the Wildcats a 15-6 lead after the first eight minutes.
    “Having to take Jaqawn out really threw off our rhythm,” said Hill. “When you’re trying to get him off the court in defensive situations, it messes with the rotation. Richmond took advantage and went on a run.”
    Raymond returned to action in the second quarter and quickly pitched in with a three-point play. Coleman hit on a 3 and followed with a 15-footer to cut the lead to 21-18, but Richmond closed the half with a bang as Ross beat the buzzer again with a layup to give the Wildcats a 26-19 advantage at the break.
    Statesboro continued to battle in the third quarter. Michael Summers hit a layup midway through the period to get within 35-34, but Richmond Hill went on another spurt to pull away again.
    With the loss, Statesboro goes into the GHSA state playoffs as a No. 2 seed. The Devils will host the No. 3 seed out of Region 4-AAAA Saturday in the opening round of the state tournament.

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.