Chapel Hill coach Chris Long knew there would be games when his much-smaller team would struggle rebounding against a taller team.
That game happened to be on Tuesday when the Panthers suffered a 66-46 loss to Villa Rica in a Region 5-AAAAA contest at home.
Villa Rica used its height advantage, and freshman sensation Deasia Merrill proved to be too much for the Panthers to handle in the paint.
With Merrill pumping in 31 points, the Wildcats won their eighth straight game and remained in sole possession of second place in the region. She was four points away from breaking her career-high of 34 set on Jan. 19 against South Paulding.
Villa Rica coach Michael Mitchell credited it as a team effort in the win. Emily Parham and April Battle each scored 10 points a piece for the Wildcats, who improved to 16-4 overall and 11-2 in the region.
With the loss, Chapel Hill dropped to 10-10 and 6-7 as they are currently in seventh place in the region.
“It was her teammates that did a great job of sharing the basketball,” Mitchell said. “They are so unselfish and she did a good job of finishing.”
“No. 11 (Merrill) for them had a great game,” Long said. “She is tough and a heck of a player. She brings a lot to the game and is well polished to be just a freshman. They did a good job of using their height. They basically have something we don’t in height. It is hard to box out and rebound when you go against that much height.”
The Panthers were led by Alexia Wallace, who had 19 points and five rebounds. Also scoring in double figures for Chapel Hill was Taylor Ramsey with 12 points while Jazmine Lawrence had eight points and six rebounds.
“We were mainly concentrating on defense and lost focus sometimes on offense,” said Lawrence, who plays in the same AAU organization as Merrill. “Deasia is really good and very tough competitor. “
The loss also spoil senior night for the seven seniors on the team.
“It is not a good felling losing on senior night,” Lawrence said. “It is definitely a bummer.”
Long said his team has very little time to dwell on the loss with several more region games coming up including a couple makeup games because last week’s inclement weather.
“It is still a lot more basketball left to play,” Long said. “I still feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet. We need to get on a hot streak in the next couple of games. We have to get what the young folks say our swagger back.”
The top two seeds in the region standing get a berth into the state playoffs, but Mitchell said that isn’t his team’s focus right now.
“We are not looking past anybody,” Mitchell said. “We got Hiram on Thursday and then we play Alexander on Friday.Our goal is to be in the top two but we are just focusing on Hiram right now.”