The Rockdale County varsity basketball team began the season with a young squad, but now, those players are getting just a little bit older and a little bit wiser.
Rockdale used its momentum from a rivalry victory over Alcovy Tuesday night to upset region rival Newton Wednesday night at home, outmanning the Rams 55-48 for its third consecutive win.
The Bulldogs’ defense allowed Newton just five first-quarter points, while Rockdale scored nine of its 18 fourth-quarter points from the foul line in the final eight minutes of play.
Conner Ferrell led the Bulldogs with 14 points, while Darryl Tucker added 13 in the post to hand Newton its fifth loss of the year.
“It feels pretty good to see some of our younger kids get on the court and have some success,” Rockdale coach Al Williams said. “They’re starting to understand what a rivalry is. Our defense had a great plan tonight and our kids listened and executed.”
Rockdale’s smothering defense helped the Bulldogs build a 12-point fourth-quarter lead, using a crowd-raising alley-oop from Adam Ellis to Brian Jesse to get the crowd off its feet on the Bulldogs’ opening possession of the period. A Ferrell 3-pointer and Tucker put-back and free throw pushed Rockdale’s lead to 48-37 with 3:52 to play, but the Rams weren’t ready to bow out just yet.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over six times in the final three minutes, allowing Newton to go on a quick 3-0 run with a layup from Donovan Grubb and a Taylor Hawkins free throw, trimming Rockdale’s lead back to single digits.
Rockdale answered Newton’s charge at the charity stripe, hitting six of its final eight shots at the line, clinching the seven-point region victory.
Rockdale led from the outset, jumping out to a 7-0 advantage over the game’s opening four minutes. Tajee Steele hit the Bulldogs’ first basket on a driving layup and Ferrell rattled in his first 3-pointer of the night a minute later, before Tucker scored on an up-and-under move.
Newton hit just a pair of shots from the floor in the opening period, the first coming on a Jalen Glover layup after a Rockdale turnover and the second on a Hawkins’ basket down low. Both teams traded shots to end the quarter, with Rockdale carrying an 11-5 advantage into the second quarter.
The Rams went on a 6-0 run fueled by back-to-back Glover 3-pointers, cutting Rockdale’s lead to 16-15, but the Bulldogs answered once again, pushing their lead to 21-17 on a Jamal Turner banked-in 3-pointer from the right wing and a pair of free throws from Ferrell.
Both teams scored before the first-half buzzer sounded, sending Rockdale into halftime with a 23-19 lead, despite eight points from Glover in the quarter.
Rockdale poured on the points in the third quarter, pushing its lead to double figures with a 9-2 run to start the period. Tucker scored twice in the paint during the run and Ferrell connected on his third 3-pointer of the game, giving the Bulldogs an 11-point advantage.
Newton made another short run to trim the lead to seven with consecutive layups from Hawkins and Grubb, but Turner drained another 3-pointer from the Bulldogs just as time expired, inbounding the ball off a Newton defender and launching his shot with a second to go in the quarter.
Turner’s shot gave Rockdale a 37-27 advantage heading into the final period, a lead Rockdale wouldn’t surrender.
“Rockdale made a ton of shots tonight,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “Every time we tried to come back, they were able to hit shots and we didn’t get many breaks at all. Everything seemed to go their way tonight and we didn’t play very well at all. I thought we were doing some good things, but we didn’t get anything out of it.”
Newton went 9-of-10 at the charity in the final quarter, but couldn’t slow down Rockdale’s offense enough to mount a comeback.