NORCROSS – More than four minutes had gone by in the fourth quarter since Shelby Threlkeld missed a wide open lay-up.
South Forsyth point guard KK Storms had corralled a steal, looked up the court and found Threlkeld. She was already under the basket alone. She had enough time to catch Storms’ pass, take a deliberate step toward the hoop, attempt a lay-up – and miss.
But four minutes is enough time for Threlkeld’s mind to take that shot, capture it and dispose of it completely.
“Every shot I take I just try to put it behind me,” Threlkeld said. “I’m a forward thinker.”
The next time Storms found Threlkeld open under the basket there were 25 seconds left in regulation, and South trailed defending state champion Norcross by three.
No matter. Threlkeld made the lay-up, was fouled and sunk the free throw to tie the game and spark the Lady War Eagles to a 62-50 overtime victory in the second round of the Class AAAAAA tournament Monday.
South (25-5) advanced to its first Elite 8 in school history on Wednesday where it will host Parkview, a 35-32 winner over Mountain View, at 6:30 p.m.
“I’m so happy for them for achieving that,” South head coach Keith Gravitt said. “I don’t want them to be satisfied with it, but at the same time you’ve got to step back ... and allow them to recognize their achievement and enjoy that.”
“It’s unreal,” South junior Ally Welch said. “I don’t even think it has set in right now.”
Above the mass of jumping bodies in euphoric celebration after the game were the same two state championship banners that hung in the Norcross gymnasium a year ago when South played the Lady Blue Devils in the first round of the state tournament. Quick math, though, revealed there were now three.
Indeed, Norcross’s reputation had only grown since it handed the Lady War Eagles’ an 80-34 season-ending loss on its way to winning a third state title in four seasons. Yes, the Lady Blue Devils no longer had star forward Diamond DeShields who signed with the University of North Carolina, was named the Naismith Girl’s High School Player of the Year and was on each of Norcross’ state title-winning teams. Still, the Lady Blue Devils entered this season’s state playoffs as the defending champion and the No. 4 ranked team in the state according to one poll.
Those circumstances were too much for South last season, and maybe for a few moments – when Gravitt called a timeout just 3:30 into the game as Norcross raced out to an 8-0 lead, or when Lady Blue Devils senior and Georgia Southern signee Sierra Butler (12 points) got a steal and lay-up to push Norcross ahead 40-31 in the fourth quarter – it appeared it would be again.
Instead, Welch (14 points) made a put-back lay-up to spark South’s 13-4 run to end the fourth quarter, a run punctuated by Threlkeld’s clutch three-point play that tied the game and sent it into overtime.
“When I needed peace, [God] was able to give it to me, and I was able to knock down that shot,” said Threlkeld who finished with 11 points.
“That comeback would be thanks to Shelby,” Welch said. “She hit that shot and we all went crazy and that momentum just threw us all forward to complete the game. We knew we had to win at that point.”
South never trailed in overtime. Instead, the Lady War Eagles made 15 of 19 free throws, Myers (22 points) hit a 3-pointer, Norcross was called for two technical fouls and South played staunch defense.
Beneath the state championship banners, on the court where the Lady War Eagles’ season ended a year ago, South found a way to make history.
“It was definitely in our minds,” Welch said. “We all walked in and remembered the gym. It all kind of set in as we saw the place.
“I guess we just came out and got pumped. Coach [Gravitt] gave us a pep talk. We made sure that we didn’t come out here afraid because we knew we could beat them.”