WALNUT GROVE, Ga. — A third-quarter collapse led to Eastside’s demise Saturday night as it suffered a 62-41 loss to Clarke Central in the Region 8-AAAAA championship game at Walnut Grove High School.
Facing a 26-23 deficit at the break, the Eagles came out flat at the start of the third quarter. The Gladiators locked in defensively, limiting their opponent to minimal open looks at the basket. They also bullied their way to a lopsided affair under the rim on both sides of the court, leading to second-, third- and fourth-chance points.
As a result, Clarke Central created separation en route to compiling a 40-26 lead with 2:40 left in the period.
Eastside failed to make up the difference.
When the clubs first met earlier this season, the Gladiators overpowered the Eagles by grinding away for four quarters. First-year Eastside head coach Dorrian Randolph cited his team’s lack of mental toughness as being the deciding factor.
Eastside entered the region title game having won nine of its last 10 contests since falling to Clarke Central on Jan. 8, but that run wasn’t enough to turn the tables in the rematch.
“We were hoping, with our momentum, to be able to match their physicality. [Saturday] their physicality and their mental toughness, we just couldn’t match it,” Randolph said.
The Eagles trailed 43-31 at the end of three quarters, but pulled as close as 47-39 with 5:12 left in regulation. Over the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, however, fatigue appeared to set in as Clarke Central pulled away for the 21-point victory.
Despite Saturday’s defeat, Eastside’s staff remains optimistic about making their first postseason appearance since 2017.
“When I got this job I made certain goals, and making state in the first year was definitely one of those goals. That part felt good, so you know you can hang your hat on that,” Randolph said. “But in order for us to go further — which, you know, the next goal is to hopefully go as far as we can, and hopefully bring home a championship — we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Eagles will enter the Class AAAAA state playoffs as a No. 2 seed. They’ll host No. 3 Decatur in the opening round next week. The date and time for the first-round matchup was not immediately made available.