Following back-to-back three-point losses to Villa Rica and Paulding County, the tide finally turned for the Carrollton High School boys' basketball team.
Opening the Carrollton Christmas Tournament on Thursday night, the host Trojans pulled ahead of Douglass within the final minute to hang on for a 58-55 victory in the quarterfinal round.
Emotions were charged for Carrollton (4-3) throughout the evening as before the game, current and former players held a ceremony to honor longtime head coach Tim Criswell, who is still recovering from a near-fatal biking accident this past August.
Carrollton athletic director and interim head coach Paul Fitz-Simons was overwhelmed with joy to see his players grind out a close victory like that on that particular evening with Criswell in attendance.
"What a meaningful night to have 40 Carrollton Trojans come out of the bleachers to honor Tim Criswell with the fight that he's going through," Fitz-Simons said. "To see the guys fight like that on the court meant everything."
The opening-round matchup between the Trojans and visiting Astros was deadlocked for its entirety with each quarter ending in a tie. The three-point shooting of Melvin Edwards and Ricky Rodriguez energized the Trojans in the first half, while an aggressive performance down low from Isaiah Lancaster kept the Trojans afloat in the third.
Falling behind to begin the fourth, five straight points from the junior Rodriguez brought the Trojans back to within one with a minute left.
That's when Marcellious Lockett stepped up big to alter the course of the game for the home Trojans. Playing stifling defense, the sophomore came away with a steal and a subsequent layup to put the Trojans up by one and then the same exact sequence to give them a three-point cushion.
"That's Carrollton Trojan man-to-man defense. We got on them and they didn't know how to handle it. To our credit, we went in their and stuck it in," Fitz-Simons said. "Not only did (Lockett) steal it, he was able to go in and lay it up, which is pretty hard to do."
Up one score with 30 seconds left, Carrollton managed to shut down Douglass' attempts to tie the game, ultimately surviving and moving on to the the tournament semifinals.
Fitz-Simons described the challenge it was to get past a talented Astros ballclub.
"They run that matchup 2-3 zone like Syracuse and that's about the toughest thing to play against, especially if you haven't seen it all year long," Fitz-Simons said. "Luckily, we had enough towards the end to put us over the top."
A spot in the tournament championship game will be on the line for the Trojans tonight at 7:30 when they take on Troup. For now, the interim head coach and his team will briefly enjoy what they were able to pull off Thursday.
"I told our guys that every game that we play is going to be grinders like that," Fitz-Simons said. "I'm just so proud of our kids."