Class AAAAAA blog: Lovejoy girls, Tri-Cities boys seek to hold on to No. 1 rankings

Tri-Cities guard Titus Hunter (4) was 9-for-13 from the free-throw line and finished with 28 points in the Bulldogs' 83-74 victory over Brunswick in the Class AAAAAA semifinals Saturday at the University of West Georgia.

Credit: Chip Saye

Credit: Chip Saye

Tri-Cities guard Titus Hunter (4) was 9-for-13 from the free-throw line and finished with 28 points in the Bulldogs' 83-74 victory over Brunswick in the Class AAAAAA semifinals Saturday at the University of West Georgia.

A defending state champion, a former two-time title winner and two first-time finalists will compete for the Class AAAAAA boys and girls basketball championships Saturday at the Macon Coliseum.

Lovejoy will face Lanier in the girls championship game at 1 p.m. The boys teams from Tri-Cities and Tucker will play for the title in the following game, at approximately 3 p.m.

Lovejoy (29-3), the defending girls state champion and No. 1-ranked team, made it back to the final with a 69-46 victory over fifth-ranked Valdosta in the semifinals Saturday at the University of West Georgia. The Wildcats have won 45 consecutive games against Georgia opponents, a streak that dates to a 56-53 loss to Region 4 rival Stephenson on Dec. 16, 2017. That was the Wildcats’ only loss on the road to their first state championship.

Lovejoy held a 15-point lead at halftime against Valdosta, but the Wildcats cut the lead to 34-27 with 5:19 to play in the third quarter on a 3-pointer but Ja’Mya Johnson. The lead was still seven points heading into the fourth, but Lovejoy outscored Valdosta 24-8 in the final eight minutes to put the game away.

“We thought we were the most talented team, but Valdosta is so tough,” Lovejoy coach Cedric King told Ken Chrzanowski for the Clayton News Daily. “Our girls answered and showed why they’re the number one team in the state. Our mission is to always win the last game.”

Anaya Boyd, the Region 4 player of the year, led the way for Lovejoy with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Genesis Bryant, the Class AAAAAA player of the year last season, had 16 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Both are junior guards.

The team Lovejoy probably expected to see in the final, Region 4 rival and second-ranked Forest Park, won’t be there. Instead, it will be fourth-ranked Lanier (28-3), which upset the Panthers 44-38 to reach the state finals for the first time in program history.

The Longhorns, who were 2-for-24 (8.3 percent) from the field in the first half, trailed by 11 points in the third quarter and 26-18 heading into the fourth but outscored Forest Park 26-12 over the final eight minutes. Mekala Fuller scored 13 of her game-high 15 points in the second half and Nala Lawrence made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including one with 3:33 remaining that gave Lanier its first lead of the game at 34-32.

Forest Park played Lovejoy three times during the season, losing all three by a total of 10 points.

Lanier, which opened in 2010, had never been to the playoffs until reaching the second round last season.

“The first half, we just didn’t play like a team that’s been there before,” Lanier coach Tim Slater said after the semifinal victory. “Forest Park’s a great team, and they’ve been there. They’ve won a lot of games, they’re a talented team and they’re well-coached. That first half was kind of a shell-shock, so for us to kind of settle down and do what we do was huge.”

The top-ranked Tri-Cities boys (24-6) are making their first appearance in the state finals after beating Brunswick 83-74 in a game that was not as close as the final score. A layup by Titus Hunter gave the Bulldogs an 80-62 lead with 2:26 remaining, and Brunswick outscored Tri-Cities 12-3 in the closing minutes to close the gap.

Hunter was 9-for-11 from the field and 9-for-13 from the free throw line and finished with a game-high 28 points. His backcourt mate, Da’Marcus Johnson, scored 20 points and had seven assists.

“We have great guard play,” Tri-Cities coach Omari Forts said. “Our guards have carried us all season, and that was the case in this victory as well.”

Demetrius Rives added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

Tri-Cities is in the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons and the 13th time overall but had never advanced past the second round until reaching the quarterfinals the past two seasons.

The sixth-ranked Tucker boys (26-4), who won state championships in 1996 and 2007, advanced to the final with a 52-46 victory over Heritage-Conyers in a game in which neither team led by more than eight points.

The Tigers won despite shooting just 30.6 percent from the field and seeing their two leading scorers combine for 10 points on 2-for-17 shooting. Jermontae Hall, who came in averaging 15.0 points per game, finished with eight points but had nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. Watson, averaging 12.7 points, scored two and had three rebounds.

Braelon Seals and Nate Ogbu picked up the slack. Seals scored a game-high 19 points, 12 above his average, and was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 20 seconds to put the game away. Ogbu had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.