Kre'Sean Hall and his Lakeside teammates made the most of their first appearance in a region championship game.
Kalen Williams and Hall combined for 23 points in the final quarter as the fifth-ranked Panthers rallied to knock off Heritage, 67-63, in the Region 3-AAAAAA title game Friday night at Evans High School.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Hall, a senior forward. "Coach always tells us not to get too high and not to get too low. They got excited when they went up and got too high. We stayed neutral. We got the result we wanted."
Lakeside improved to 21-4 - a school record for wins in a season. The Panthers will play host to Valdosta in the first round of the state tournament at 6 p.m. next Saturday.
"I knew we were capable of this," first-year Lakeside coach Jeff Williams said. "I'd by lying if I said I knew we'd be 21-4, because our schedule was hard. But these kids are fighters."
Williams knows something about battling to get to where he is today.
Two decades earlier, he worked at places like Thermal Ceramics, Winn-Dixie, Fresh Market, DHL and then Advanced Services before finally getting his teaching degree from Brenau University. Then, his first coaching gig was a $20,000-a-year job at Our Lady of Peace - his team went undefeated that season.
Williams then coached the Greenbrier junior varsity for two seasons. After Lakeside athletic director Jody Hilley stepped down from coaching basketball last year, the school gave Williams a chance.
"I feel like God placed me here with these kids," he said. "We needed each other. It's truly been a blessing."
Lakeside has now won 12 games in a row, including an unblemished mark in region play. The Panthers' last loss came in a Christmas tournament to Grovetown. Since then, Lakeside's been on a roll, beating Heritage in overtime on the road and then pulling out a three-point win over the Patriots, Jan. 31.
"I felt like we matched up better with Heritage than with Grovetown," Williams said. "They have some big guys we can play our traditional man-to-man defense against. I think it was just a good matchup."
In the region championship, Heritage took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter and led by four with 2:30 remaining. Kalen Williams converted a three-point play to pull Lakeside within one.
With Lakeside down one again, Williams converted another three-point play to put the Panthers on top 65-63 with 23 seconds left. Then, Heritage's Byron Abrams missed two game-tying free throws with eight seconds remaining. Hall iced the game with two foul shots.
Williams posted a game-high 29 points, while Hall added 19. Williams was a perfect 15 of 15 from the foul line, while Hall converted six of seven free-throw attempts. Lakeside shot 21 of 24 from the foul line.
Heritage shot just 15 of 26 from the free-throw line. Jordan Thomas led the Patriots with 18 points.