When Columbia coach Eric Bell noticed the way his girls basketball team interacted on the floor, he had a feeling that something good was about to happen. There was a renewed sense of camaraderie on the team that proved to be an omen for things to come.
“Just the way they talk to each other, the way they communicate,” said Bell, in his third year as head coach. “When someone falls down, they’re there with a hand to help them up. They’re excited to share the ball. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
The teamwork has helped the Eagles (22-7) advance to the Elite Eight, where they host Wayne County on Tuesday. It’s the first time Columbia has reached the third round since 2014.
Columbia has a long and storied history of success. The Eagles won the state championship in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Only Southwest DeKalb, Columbia’s rival in Region 5, has won more titles.
“I’m fully aware of the history and to be able to represent Columbia basketball is a privilege,” Bell said.
Shontrice Austin is the only senior on the roster. The 5-foot-6 guard averages 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. Constance Johnson, a 5-9 junior, averages 16.7 points, 3.1 steals and 3.7 assists. India Terrell, a 5-5 sophomore, averages 13.3 points – which includes a 28-point effort against Arabia Mountain – and Daija Carr, a 5-6 junior, averages 11.2 points.
Buford, Southwest DeKalb double their fun: It should be no surprise that the boys and girls teams from Buford are still alive. They are the only two schools with representatives from boys and girls that remain in the field.
Both teams could meet in the semifinals. On the boys side, No. 1 Buford plays Dutchtown and No. 2 SWD plays No. 6 Woodland in the Elite Eight. On the girls side, No. 1 Buford plays No. 6 Veterans and No. 4 Southwest DeKalb plays Griffin.
Villa Rica girls still unbeaten: The No. 2-ranked Wildcats (30-0) remain the only unbeaten team in the classification after they defeated nemesis Arabia Mountain in the second round. Coach Tammy Norred’s team will try to keep it going against No. 3 Eagle’s Landing in the Elite Eight.
The longshots are gone: In the girls tournament, there are five region champions and three runners-up remaining in the field. But on the boys side, there are four champions, three runners-up and one No. 3 seed still alive.
The interloper is Dutchtown, the third-place team from Region 4, which beat Veterans in the opening round and edged Wayne County 51-50 in the second round. Dutchtown outscored Wayne 22-11 in the final quarter and Isaiah Placide scored the winning basket for the Bulldogs.
Third-round girls games:
Wayne County at Columbia
Eagle’s Landing at Villa Rica
Veterans at Buford
Griffin at Southwest DeKalb
Third-round boys games:
Dutchtown at Buford
Woodland at Southwest DeKalb
Fayette County at Kell
Lithonia at Warner Robins
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