Class AAA blog: Pace boys, GAC girls overwhelm foes to win state titles

The Class AAA high school basketball season ended last Thursday when Pace Academy captured the boys title with a 48-35 victory against Jefferson, and Greater Atlanta Christian won the girls championship after beating Beach 54-44.

Legendary boys coach Sharman White has been at Pace for two seasons and already has a championship. But at one point – with Pace Academy trailing Jefferson 13-3 at the end of the first quarter – it looked as it Pace’s third state title in five years could be of reach. Jefferson was trying to win its first championship.

“You can’t underestimate anybody, and they came out and hit us in the mouth,” White told the AJC’s Stan Awtrey. “I told our guys at halftime, we just didn’t make any shots in the first half, so relax and continue to play good defense. Shots started falling; we were getting our hands on some balls, and we kind or wore them down a bit in the third quarter.”

Pace trailed 20-13 at the half before outscoring the Dragons 35-15 in the second half to put away the game. The Knights pieced together an 11-0 run in the second half, which helped give Pace its first lead of the game. George Adams, a senior averaging 3.7 points per game, scored nine points in that run. Pace junior Cole Middleton led with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor and 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Junior four-star recruit Matthew Cleveland scored 10 points with two assists, a block and a steal. Adams scored nine points, and Madison Durr scored nine points with eight rebounds. Josh Reed grabbed eight rebounds for Pace. Jefferson’s Owen Parker led the Dragons with 11 points and two steals. Malaki Starks finished with eight points.

A young GAC girls team has a very bright future that could signal the rebirth of a basketball dynasty in Norcross. Sophomore Kaleigh Addie led the Spartans to their ninth state championship – first since 2007 – with a game-high 28 points and capped off a season where pre-region preparation paid dividends for GAC.

“She can score in the open court,” GAC head coach Jessica Guarneri told the AJC’s Chip Saye. “When Kaleigh Addie shines is when the court is in front of her. We were having a tough time getting the ball to her in the half-court set, so our defense enabled us to get her the ball in transition, where they couldn’t really stop her.”

GAC lost nine of its first 13 games, with two of those losses coming against teams in the championships games -- Class AAAAA Buford (59-25) and Class A Private Holy Innocents’ (60-54). It also included semifinalists from Class AAAAAAA (Campbell, 61-47), A Private (Hebron Christian, 59-31/Wesleyan 59-44) and AAA (North Hall, 49-48). The battle tested Spartans took advantage in the fourth quarter, outscoring Beach 24-12, a run built on experience gained while playing against quality opponents. Addie, a sophomore, was 10-of-16 from the floor, 2-for-2 from 3-point range, and shot 6-for-10 from the free-throw line. Senior Ava Irvin scored 13 points — 11-of-13 from the free-throw line. Beach’s Kaila Rougier scored 20 points to lead the Bulldogs, and Madison Evans scored 11 points.

Here were the final state rankings:

Boys

1. Pace Academy (28-4)

2. Jefferson (22-8)

3. Johnson-Savannah (23-8)

4. Central-Macon (23-8)

5. Windsor Forest (25-5)

6. Monroe (21-7)

7. Dawson County (25-3)

8. Long County (25-5)

9. Greater Atlanta Christian (21-9)

10. Lovett (19-8)

Girls

1. Greater Atlanta Christian (20-12)

2. Johnson-Savannah (25-2)

3. Beach (22-10)

4. Jefferson (25-5)

5. North Hall (23-9)

6. Sonoraville (23-7)

7. Ringgold (20-9)

8. Cedar Grove (19-6)

9. Pierce County (23-6)

10. Fannin County (19-11)

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