Rivalry games tend to bring out the best in sports.
And tonight's Region 7-5A semifinal between Gwinnett County neighbors North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge was no exception. After nine lead changes and a blur of late fouls in a game webcasted on GPB.org, the No. 2 Lions defeated the No. 7 Bulldogs 57-53 at Mill Creek.
Three Eric Ryba free throws in the final 12.2 seconds sealed the deal for the Lions, who squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs took a 50-49 lead with 2:43 left - their first lead since the opening half - when Kwesi Abakah rebounded and stuck back a missed shot.
But Ridge's Corey Heyward completed a three-point play with 2:24 left to get the lead back for Ridge. After a Ryon Riggins free throw, North Gwinnett trailed by just one. Then, with 22.5 left in the game, emotions got the best of one Lion player. After Bulldog Clayton Williams fouled Bo Swanson of Peachtree Ridge, Swanson shoved Williams into the Ridge bench and was called for a technical foul. So instead of Ridge going to the line to ice the game, North Gwinnett also got a shot from the charity stripe, then possession of the ball.
Swanson hit his free throws, while North made their one attempt to make it 54-53 Ridge. Abekah then missed a difficult shot from under the basket and Riggins was forced to foul Ryba, who made both free throws.
Now down three with 12.2 left, the Dogs needed a three. it was not to be, however, after Ridge intercepted a deflected pass and Ryba was again sent to the line.
Ryba then coolly knocked down the first free throw, then wisely missed the second. North Gwinnett could only get off a desperation three, which went awry, and the Lions advanced to the region final.
Peachtree Ridge will now play for the region title tomorrow against No. 5 Norcross. Both North Gwinnett and Ridge will advance to the state tournament.