Class AAAAA: A look at sweetest of Sweet 16 matchups

The No. 9 Arabia Mountain and No. 2 Villa Rica girls are developing a regular rivalry. The two team will meet in the postseason for the third consecutive year, one of the featured games in Class AAAAA. 

In 2016-17, Arabia Mountain prevailed 52-45 on its home court in the first round. In 2017-18, Villa Rica returned the favor by winning 67-66 in the second round. The rubber game will be played Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Villa Rica. 

Arabia Mountain (20-5) dropped to third place in Region 5 after an untimely loss to Columbia in the tournament. The Rams defeated Clarke Central 47-39 in the first round to set up the rematch. Villa Rica (29-0) won the Region 7 regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats open the playoffs by beating Lithia Springs 63-40. 

“We haven’t slept much,” Arabia Mountain coach Jerry Jackson said. “We’re trying to put together a game plan that will work.”

The plan must focus on slowing player of the year candidate Deasia Merrill, a 6-foot-2 senior who has signed with Kentucky. Merrill scored 22 in the first-round win The Wildcats also have fine players in Aliyah Hindsman, Dekyia Cofield and Tee Windom.

Arabia Mountain is led by Region 5 Player of the Year Kennedi Manning, Alina Shoemaker and Ke’Andrea Middlebrooks. Manning, a 6-1 senior, averages 14 points and 10.2 rebounds and has signed with Anderson.

The Rams play in a league that demands a high level of defense. That aspect of the game is critical to their success, particularly against a quality team like Villa Rica. 

“You can’t win unless you play defense and you play with passion,” Jackson said. “That’s been a trademark of what we’ve tried to do here.”

Arabia Mountain has also gotten a big effort from assistant coach David Ross, who has filled in while Jackson has been sidelined following knee surgery. 

Here are other top second-round girls games:

No. 6 Veterans at No. 7 Statesboro, Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Statesboro (25-3) is led by junior Lacy Robins, who averages 17 points and six rebounds. The Blue Devils are a young team that has only one senior on the roster. Veterans (24-4) has just one senior, too, and Madison Perez (12.9 points) was one of three Warhawks named to the All-Region 1 team. She was joined by Stacie Jones (14.6 points, 12.4 rebounds) and Tamia Luckey (12.3 points). 

Rome at No. 4 Southwest DeKalb, Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Rome opened the playoffs with a road win over Maynard Jackson and takes their game on the road again to challenge a defensively stout SWD team. Rome (19-10) features All-Region 7 selections Tarrah Gibson, Amberly Brown and Tamiya Griffin. Southwest (22-6) took care of Cedar Shoals in the first round, with Lanee Edwards (17 points) embellishing her All-Region 5 persona. Raven Thurman continues to be a double threat for Southwest and successfully pounds the boards. 

No. 8 Carrollton at No. 1 Buford, Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Carrollton was denied a trip to the Final Four a year ago with a two-point loss to Harris County. The Trojans (22-7) are led by the tandem of De’Mauri Flournoy and Kehinde Obasuyi and had no trouble with Decatur in the first round. This will be a different challenge. Defending champion Buford (25-2) coasted past Chamblee in the opening round. The Wolves are a true team that goes 10 deep, with coach Gene Durden constantly sending in fresh waves of players to press and harass the opposition. Tate Walters, Preston Reid and Ebony Grant are three of the most decorated players, but this is a group that is truly better collectively than it is individually. 

Starr’s Mill at No. 5 Eagle’s Landing, Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Eagle’s Landing will be trying to get back to the Elite Eight again this season. The Golden Eagles (22-5) are led by All-Region 4 selections Jalisa Dunlap (13.1 points) and Jaleah Storr (12.8 points). Starr’s Mill (20-8) is led by first-team All-Region 3 player Alice Ann Hudson and Jaclyn Hester, who was named the region’s Freshman of the Year. 

Here are the top second-round boys games: 

No. 6 Woodland at No. 4 Jonesboro, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: Jonesboro (21-8) should get a test in this spotlight second-round game. Woodland (24-5) features three All-Region 4 players: Curtis Purdue, Sincere Whitehead and Dwayne Chester. Purdie leads the high-scoring Wolfpack with 20.3 points, followed by Jalen Mason (17.1) and Chester (16). Jonesboro (21-8) is led by the All-Region 3 trio of Dakota Laffew, Brice Martin and Omar Ndengey. Laffew averages 14.3 and is the only double-figure scorer for the young Cardinals. 

Cedar Shoals at No. 8 Kell, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: Cedar Shoals (15-13) knocked off Columbia in the first round thanks to its balanced attack, with all-region players Quincy Canty scoring 21 and Tyler Johnson added 19. Kell (24-5) had little trouble against Lithia Springs in the first round, as C.J. Henderson and Justin Perry – the team’s two all-region players – both topping 20.

Rome at No. 7 Lithonia, Thursday, 6 p.m.: Both teams feature an outstanding individual. Lithonia (19-9) is led by all-region forward Eric Gaines, who scored 25 in the opening-round win over Loganville. The Bulldogs had four players in double figures in that game and reached the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive season. The Raiders will need to stop Rome is led by Caleb Byrd, the Region 7 Player of the Year, who scored 26 points in the Wolves’ first-round win over Region 6 champion Riverwood. 

Carrollton at No. 2 Southwest DeKalb, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: Kadarius Johnson continued his exceptional play in the first-round rout over Clarke Central with 18 points, six assists and five steals. The Panthers (22-6) also rode the inside game of James Glisson, who had 11 points and five blocked shots. Carrollton (17-10) has gotten good play from the duo of Marcellious Lockett and Melvin Edwards and knocked off Banneker in the first round. 

No. 5 Fayette County at No. 3 Eagle’s Landing: This should be an exciting game. Fayette County (23-5) is led by Region 3 Player of the Year Josh Dupree (10 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.2 steals) and all-region player JeKobe Coleman (14.1 points). Eagle’s Landing (23-4) blew through the Region 4 tournament and breezed by Bainbridge in the first round. The Golden Eagles are led by team captains Christopher Hood, the Region 4 Player of the Year, and Rashad Elloie, another all-region selection. 

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