Northeast girls end Final Four drought
March 8, 2011Northeast High School
The next “neutral-site” game Northeast plays, however, may as well be called a home game.
It could almost be called Copeland Court II.
For the first time since 2002 and the 10th time in 41 seasons, the Raiderettes will be back in Macon playing for a state title at the Macon Coliseum -- less than two miles away from their actual home floor -- as part of the GHSA Class AA Final Four. Their berth was earned Saturday afternoon when they traveled to Savannah State’s Tiger Arena and beat Dodge County in the quarterfinals 49-40.
The win means Northeast (27-3) will play at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
“It means a lot to me,” said Northeast head coach Alvin Copeland, who will retire after this season. “But I certainly hope it means more to our athletes because they’ve never done this before.”
The man for whom Northeast’s home floor is named has certainly seen his share of semifinal and final basketball.
Since his arrival at Northeast in 1970, the Raiderettes have won five state championships.
Late Saturday, as he checked cell phone messages and leaned up against the wall outside the Raiderettes’ locker room, Copeland was shown just how much the Final Four appearance meant to his players. Multiple Raiderettes walked up to him and gave him hugs as they walked back into the arena, set for their return trip home.
“You did it, Coach,” one of his assistants said.
“No, you guys did it,” Copeland replied. “You all really coached.”
Coaching adjustments and strategy were as much a part of the game as the efforts of the players themselves.
At halftime, as Northeast trailed 18-17, Copeland and his staff reminded his team that it needed to do a better job pressing Dodge County (19-10) and beating the Squaws’ own defensive pressure.
“The object against any pressure is if you can keep the ball out of the middle (of the court) and get the ball into the trap areas, it’s more effective (offensively),” Copeland said. “We did a poor job of that at halftime, but we came out in the third quarter and did a pretty decent job.”
Decent? Try excellent.
After being held to single-digit scoring the first two quarters, Northeast had 19 points in the third before taking a seven-point lead entering the fourth.
The offensive difference-maker in the quarter was senior Maria Bond, who had nine of her game-high 21 in it.
Jerryshia Williams added pressure defensively, coming away with a pair of steals in the quarter to go along with her five third-quarter points. Williams finished with 16.
Dodge County head coach Carol Smith was unsure why her team seemed to struggle with Northeast’s fullcourt defensive press.
“We can break the press,” Smith said. “That was obvious when we beat Vidalia. So the press should not be an issue. But we allowed it to be.”
The Squaws upset previously unbeaten Vidalia earlier in the week in a two-point road win. With a trip to the Final Four on the line and playing inside a larger arena in front of more people, “nerves” caught up with Dodge County, Smith said.
“It was total nerves,” Smith said. “We were just a little off the whole game. But take nothing away from Northeast, they played well and I wish them and Coach Copeland luck.”
Although Dodge County pulled to within three with less than three minutes remaining, the Raiderettes were able to stretch the lead. With just 13 seconds left, the fans who made the trip began to cheer as it became clear Northeast was headed back to the Final Four.
The quarterfinals trip was the Raiderettes’ second in three seasons. They lost to Laney in 2009.