MACON - This couldn't be happening, Swainsboro senior center Nikki Robinson thought. Not here, not now.
Swainsboro had come too far, had sacrificed too much, had made too many strides to get turned away in the last eight minutes by a Northeast-Macon team determined to overcome a 15-point, third-quarter lead.
In the end, the Lady Tigers were powerless to stop Northeast-Macon's rally.
Swainsboro point guard Shayla Roberts fouled out with 4:06 to play, and the Lady Tigers folded without their top scorer.. They suffered a 61-52 loss to the Raiderettes in the Georgia Class AAA state title game Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
"We were up by 11 going into the half, and I kept thinking that this wasn't going to happen," said Robinson, who finished her Swainsboro career with a 12-point, eight-rebound effort. "I thought we could fight through like we had been doing."
For the Lady Tigers (30-3), who had overcome second-half deficits in their previous three games, one last comeback wasn't in the cards.
Rather, Northeast-Macon (29-3), which knocked Swainsboro out of the Sweet 16 last season, was the one to make a turnaround.
Despite another poor first-half shooting percentage - the Lady Tigers shot 35 percent (9-of-26) from the floor - Swainsboro held a 36-21 lead with 6:41 left in the third quarter. But the Raiderettes never gave up.
"We didn't really get frustrated," said Northeast-Macon's Moteak Sanford, who scored 15 points. "We knew we could get back in the game."
The Raiderettes used a full-court press to force 28 Swainsboro turnovers, including 17 in the second half, and the Lady Tigers' offense couldn't regroup.
"It was like the game flipped on us," Robinson said. "When they started scoring, they started pressing, and that frustrated us. We turned the ball over, and they started out-hustling us."
Swainsboro's chance at the title was smothered.
After a 21-8 run tied the game at 44, Roberts, who led the Lady Tigers with 16 points, picked up her fifth foul on a handcheck near midcourt.
That's when the Raiderettes' pressure overwhelmed Swainsboro.
"I thought we could hold on if we could get the ball back over halfcourt," Swainsboro coach Bobby Andrews said. "But Northeast put too much pressure on us. We just couldn't hang onto the ball when we were supposed to."
Said Robinson: "Because I'm the senior leader, I want to be strong for my team and for myself. But this really hurts."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.