Class AAAA blog: Sweet 16 Preview

R1#2 Americus-Sumter vs. R2#1 Upson-Lee

Two-time defending state champion Upson-Lee defeated Richmond Academy 66-56 in the first round. The Knights jumped out to a 19-3 lead after the first quarter, but a poor night of shooting at the foul line (14-of-32, 44 percent) curbed their pace. Americus-Sumter’s 55-54 loss to Carver-Columbus in the Region 1 Championship resulted in their No. 2 seed. It was the third loss to the Tigers experienced during the 2018-19 season. The Panthers matched up with Salem in the first round and scored a 72-50 victory to improve to 23-4. Americus-Sumter’s 6-foot-7 senior Joshua Lusane will be matched up with Upson-Lee’s Travon Walker—a 6-foot-5, 250-pound five-star defensive end and double-double machine that is signed to play football at Georgia next fall.   

R7#2 Marist vs. R8#1 St. Pius

Rivals Marist and St. Pius will square off for the second time this year. When the teams met back on Dec. 4, St Pius scored a 62-49 victory. Marist used a 48-43 win over LaFayette to advance to the Sweet 16 and St. Pius used an 81-40 victory over Cedartown. 

R1#3 Dougherty vs. R3#1 Thomson

Dougherty proved to be a dangerous No. 3 seed in the first round by dispatching Henry County 85-64. Thomson was just as impressive and cruised past West Laurens 75-40. Thomson has held its last eight opponents to 56 points or less and Dougherty has scored more than 56 points in its 11 last games. 

R7#3 Blessed Trinity vs. R5#1 Sandy Creek

Blessed Trinity dropped a 46-43 matchup with Denmark and earned the No. 3 seed with a 65-50 victory over West Hall in the Region 7-AAAA consolation final. The Titans opened the playoffs with a 78-50 win over Heritage-Catoosa, but now they clash with a red-hot Sandy Creek team. The Patriots are in the hunt for the program’s first state title and are carrying a 15-game winning streak into the Sweet 16. The top-seeded Patriots scored an 88-42 win over North Oconee in the first round. Drexel signee TJ Bickerstaff posted 19 points and a team-high eight assists. Jabari Smith had 19 points with his six rebounds and Julian Anderson finished with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Keith Williams (9), DeShon Procter (8) and Matt Williams (7) also added offensive contributions in Sandy Creek’s well-balanced effort.

R3#2 Cross Creek vs. R4#1 Woodward Academy

Cross Creek closed out a 67-52 win over Mary Persons by outscoring the Bulldogs 35-22 in the second half. No. 1 seeded Woodward Academy was fortunate to survive its first round contest with an athletic Westover team. Fourth-seeded Westover led by as many as 17 points in regulation, but the War Eagles got back in striking distance and Walker Kessler’s put back with 9.4 left in the fourth would force overtime at 59-59. Kessler opened the scoring in the extra period and put the War Eagles in front for the first time. He finished with a game-high 28 points to go with his 13 rebounds. Teammate Jacorrei Turner also came up big—contributing 26 points to fuel Woodward Academy’s dramatic 72-66 comeback.

R8#2 Stephens County vs. R7#1 Denmark

Stephens County defeated Troup 62-59 in the first round and Denmark cruised past Ridgeland 70-46 to record the program’s first-ever playoff victory. The Danes led 28-22 at the half before Ridgeland was able to tie it 34-34 late in the third. Denmark answered by closing the quarter on a 12-1 run and a dominant fourth quarter ultimately turned it into a 36-12 swing. Sutton Smith led the Danes with 24 points, Adonnis Tolbert added 19 and ZeVian Capers finished with 12.

R2#2 Howard vs. R1#1 Carver-Columbus

Howard survived a 69-66 overtime thriller with Baldwin in the first round. The Huskies grabbed a 20-15 lead after the opening quarter, but the margin never went past seven points and Baldwin was able to force overtime 60-60. Collin Tarver’s game-high 25 points and a 72 percent night at the foul line ultimately lifted Howard to victory. Kelvin Burrell (12) and Leon Pitts (10) also finished in double-figures for the Huskies. Baldwin was led in scoring by Torez Hicks (15) and Donte Justice (13). Top-seeded Carver-Columbus defeated a highly-talented Druid Hills team 79-64 and looked poised to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs. 

R5#2 Cartersville vs. R7#4 West Hall

No. 4 seed West Hall took a 15-10 lead after the first quarter and never trailed in its 76-75 upset of top-seeded Southeast Whitfield. West Hall’s lead grew to 52-44 at the end of the third quarter, and they led by four points until Southeast Whitfield drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring the margin to a point. Noah Edmondson finished with a game-high 26 points and shot 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to pace West Hall. Region 5 No. 2 seed Cartersville used a 59-57 win over Madison County to punch its ticket. 

Girls

R7#2 Marist vs. R8#1 Madison County

Madison County carries a nine-game winning streak into the second round and a 25-2 overall record. The Red Raiders’ two losses came to Class AAAAAAA’s Brookwood and to a North Oconee team that they would defeat 68-40 when they met for a second time this season. Last year’s Madison County team advanced to the Elite 8, but was defeated by eventual state champion Spalding 55-53. Marist is also looking to return to the quarterfinals, where they suffered a 42-37 loss to Americus-Sumter a year ago. This year’s War Eagles team is 21-7, but three of those losses came to Flowery Branch, which looked phenomenal on Wednesday night in a 67-19 win over St. Pius.

R6#2 Northwest Whitfield vs. R5#1 Sandy Creek

Sandy Creek defeated a talented North Oconee team 68-35 in the first round to set up this matchup with Northwest Whitfield. The players to watch will be Sandy Creek junior Daija Powell, a 6-foot-1 presence in the post that Northwest Whitfield will have to commit to stopping, and Northwest Whitfield’s Jada Griffin. A 5-foot-8 senior, Griffin posted 24 points and 13 rebounds in the Bruins’ 63-54 win over White County in the first round. 

R3#2 Burke County vs. R4#1 Henry County

Henry County’s only loss in the classification this year came in a 59-45 loss to Carver-Columbus in the season opener. The Warhawks demolished Westover 79-30 in the first round and clinched the top seed with a 63-28 win over Luella in the Region 4 tournament. Burke County has experience playing tough teams like Westlake, Cross Creek and Baldwin, but they will have to play their best basketball of the season to keep pace with the Warhawks. 

R3#3 Cross Creek vs. R1#1 Carver-Columbus

Cross Creek used toughness and athleticism to defeat West Laurens 56-49 on the road in the first round, and the Razorbacks will have to keep the intensity up to get Carver-Columbus off its rhythm. The Tigers are the No. 1 ranked team in the classification and improved to 28-0 after defeating Druid Hills 76-35 in the first round. Junior Olivia Cochran led the way with 24 points and is a force offensively and defensively at 6-foot-3. 

R8#3 Oconee County vs. R6#1 Heritage-Catoosa

Heritage-Catoosa has been flying under the radar this year, but their 80-58 win over Northwest Whitfield in the Region 6 Championship sent a message that the Generals are playing confident and well-balanced basketball. Seniors Emily Wiley (20.5 ppg) and Ansley Bice (14.2 ppg) are reliable scorers that provide great leadership to a team that was ousted by LaGrange 59-50 in last year’s opening round.  

*The following three games were played on Wednesday

Flowery Branch 67, St. Pius 19: Top-seed Flowery Branch demolished No. 2 seed St. Pius to advance to the quarterfinals. Caroline Wysocki finished with a game-high 22 points, single-handedly surpassing St. Pius’ total points in the game. The Falcons led 23-5 after the opening quarter, 35-12 at the half and took a 57-16 lead into the final frame. Ashlee Locke finished with 17 points and Ashley Woodroffe hit double-figures with 11 points.

Spalding 61, Hardaway 27: Defending state champion Spalding showcased its championship defense in a convincing 34-point victory over visiting Hardaway. The Jags led 20-3 at the end of the first quarter, but were outscored in the second frame and led just 26-12 at the half. Spalding opened the second half on a 28-5 run that grew the lead to 44-17 with just eight minutes left, and ultimately outscored the Hawks 35-15 in the second half.

Luella 62, Baldwin 60 OT: Luella trailed 32-20 at the half and 39-31 entering the fourth quarter before completing its come-from-behind, overtime victory over top-seeded Baldwin. The Braves led 49-44 with just over three minutes left in regulation, but Luella grabbed a brief 51-49 lead before the teams went into overtime tied 51-51. Baldwin held a 60-58 lead with 28 seconds left in the game, but two quick buckets by the Lions turned it into a 62-60 lead with 10 seconds left on the clock.

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