FORT VALLEY - Valdosta High School built a lead and held on late Saturday to top Newton High School 68-61 in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
"They made shots. Give them a lot of credit. Boy they made a lot of jump shots," Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. "I knew if they hit their threes it would be tough for us and they did."
Valdosta used a 24-point third quarter to pull ahead and never looked back. The Wildcats drained four threes in the third alone and hit six for the game. Newton hit seven but four of them came in the fourth quarter when they were down by double digits.
Derrick Henry was red-hot to start, dropping 13 of his game-high 30 in the first quarter as the Rams jumped to an 11-2 lead.
"I felt like we needed him to play well," Rasmussen said. "He loves this place and wanted to get back. He played well and is one of the top-5 players in the state in my opinion. We just didn't make enough shots."
The Wildcats, led by Jay Rome's inside out game, rallied back with six straight points to make it 11-8. Henry's three made it 14-8 and the Rams led 18-14 heading into the second quarter.
"I thought we came out with the energy we needed," Henry said. "You have to give them credit. They knocked down shots in the third quarter. I thought our defense wasn't as good as it could be and they knocked down shots."
The Rams went cold in the second quarter and Valdosta tied the game at 20 with 3:43 to go in the half. But the Wildcats found it tough to score too and they managed to shave only one point off Newton's lead at the break.
Newton's offensive struggles continued in the third quarter while Valdosta's offense erupted.
Valdosta was the benefactor of several questionable calls and fouls hurt the Rams in the second half. Newton didn't get a foul call until four minutes into the second half while Valdosta managed six. Meanwhile Valdosta caught fire from beyond the arc. The Wildcats hit four from downtown.
"We knew they were closer to here than we were so we knew they would have more of a homecourt advantage," Henry said. "We knew the officiating would be to their side to a certain extent but I felt like we still could have won the game."
Newton struggled to break the press and get into their halfcourt offense. When the Rams did get to the free throw line, they didn't cash in. Newton was 6 of 9 from the stripe in the third.
"I thought it was sort of a home game for them," Rasmussen said. "To be honest, we didn't get a lot of calls. They called some travels and stuff toward the end but we got behind and we didn't make our free throws to cut into and again, we didn't make enough shots."
Clarence Smith hit a three for Valdosta at the end of the period and when it was all said and done, the Wildcats outscored Newton 24-12.
"I made that and one and we were down six. But when they hit that three at the end of the quarter to go up nine, that gave them momentum going into the fourth and we were never able to get over that hump and get back in it," Henry said.
Stephen Croone was the only other Ram in double figures. He scored 16 including four threes.
Free throw shooting hurt the Rams. Newton went 14-for-26 from the line and 3-for-10 in the fourth quarter while Valdosta went to the stripe 40 times.
"It wasn't the turnovers it was that we didn't make enough shots and we didn't make our free throws," Rasmussen said. "We made some shots late but you have to make those earlier."
Newton finished the season 26-5 with just one returning starter. They went 33-1 the past two years and won back-to-back region championships for the first time in 28 years.
"I knew it would be and up and down game, we just didn't play solid enough for four quarters," Rasmussen said. "We're not hanging our heads. The future is bright for the Newton Rams."