The Class AAAAAA region basketball tournaments played out mostly as expected last week, with five of the eight boys championships going to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and six of the eight girls titles going to No. 1 seeds.
There were a few mild surprises, though. Harrison’s girls team, a No. 3 seed, knocked off No. 2 seed Sequoyah and top-seeded Creekview on consecutive nights to with the Region 6 championship. No. 3 seed Hughes beat No. 2 New Manchester and No. 1 Douglas County in the semifinals and championship to win the Region 5 crown.
On the boys’ side, third-seeded Houston County beat No. 2 Lee County and top-seeded Coffee to win Region 1. Coffee had been ranked No. 1 in the state last week but fell to No. 5 after the loss. In Region 3, fourth-seeded Greenbrier beat No. 5 Alcovy, routed No. 1 seed Lakeside-Evans 62-37 and beat Evans 64-56 to win the championship.
The biggest surprise, however, came in Region 8, where the fifth-seeded Apalachee boys beat No. 4 seed Winder-Barrow, top seed Lanier and No. 2 seed Gainesville over the course of three nights to win the first region championship in school history.
“This is everything,” senior guard Jay German told the Barrow News Journal. “I wouldn’t have ever believed this would happen. Not in the summer, not even at the beginning of the season, even a week ago. This is crazy.”
Apalachee, under first-year coach Ty Rowland, finished the regular season 9-16 overall and went 2-8 in the region, including a 1-5 mark against the three teams it beat in the region tournament. The Wildcats had lost twice to Gainesville by nine points each and twice to Lanier by an average of 16.5 points, including a 75-52 setback in the final week of the regular season.
“When we lost all those games at the end of the season, we could have just spit it out and said season over, but these kids decided they were going to buy in whole-heartedly to a team effort, and it showed these last three games,” Rowland told the News Journal. “There was no sweeter road to do it than the way we just did. When we started together back in June, they had graduated all their big men. They were an undersized team, on its third coach in three years, having to learn a new system again. And it just took some time. It took a ton of lumps, but it all came together at the perfect time for us.”
Apalachee will host 10th-ranked Douglas County, the No. 4 seed from Region 5, in the first round of the state tournament at 6 p.m. Saturday.
*Tough draws in the state tournament
In a tournament that is not seeded from top to bottom, it’s almost inevitable that championship-caliber games will be played in the early rounds. It happened to the No. 1-ranked Lovejoy girls last season, when they had to face No. 2 Winder-Barrow in the quarterfinals. Genesis Bryant, who was named the Class AAAAAA player of the year, scored 33 points to lead Lovejoy to a 68-67 victory in overtime. The Wildcats went on to record lopsided victories over Northview and Harrison and win their first state championship.
Lovejoy could face a similar hurdle this year, as the Wildcats could meet third-ranked Northview in the quarterfinals. Lovejoy will play Houston County in the first round and would meet the Brunswick-Grovetown winner in the second. Northview would need to beat Dalton and either Winder-Barrow or New Manchester to reach the quarterfinals.
The other ranked teams on Lovejoy’s half of the bracket are No. 5 Valdosta, No. 7 Douglas County and No. 10 Harrison. Douglas County and Harrison would meet in the second round if both teams win this week. No. 9 Stephenson and No. 6 Glynn Academy also could meet in the second round.
The biggest matchup that could come too early in the boys’ bracket is a potential second-round matchup between No. 2 Alexander and No. 3 South Cobb. Alexander, the runner-up to top-ranked Tri-Cities in the Region 5 tournament, hosts Dacula in the first round. Region 6 champion South Cobb plays Pope.
Tri-Cities won’t have a much easier road. The Bulldogs face Lanier in the first round and would then meet the winner of the game between No. 4 Sprayberry and No. 8 Chattahoochee in the second. Lanier was the No. 1 seed in the 8-AAAAAA tournament but was upset by Apalachee and Dacula and had to settle for the No. 4 seed from the region for state.
No. 9 Hughes, the two-time defending state champion, could face No. 7 Cambridge in the second round. Hughes first travels to Region 8 runner-up Gainesville in a rematch of last year’s state championship game, and Cambridge takes on Creekview.
*First-round state tournament matchups:
(R4 #3) Morrow at (R1 #2) Coffee, 7 p.m. Saturday
(R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans at (R2 #1) Brunswick, 7 p.m. Friday
(R6 #3) Sequoyah at (R7 #2) North Atlanta, 7 p.m. Friday
(R5 #4) Douglas County at (R8 #1) Apalachee, 6 p.m. Saturday
(R1 #3) Lee County at (R4 #2) Mundy’s Mill, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
(R2 #4) Bradwell Institute at (R3 #1) Greenbrier
(R7 #3) Chattahoochee at (R6 #2) Sprayberry, 7 p.m. Friday
(R8 #4) Lanier at (R5 #1) Tri-Cities, 7:30 p.m. Friday
(R2 #3) Glynn Academy at (R3 #2) Evans, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R1 #4) Valdosta at (R4 #1) Tucker, 4 p.m. Saturday
(R5 #3) Hughes at (R8 #2) Gainesville, 6 p.m. Saturday
(R6 #4) Creekview at (R7 #1) Cambridge, 7 p.m. Saturday
(R3 #3) Heritage-Conyers at (R2 #2) Richmond Hill, 6 p.m. Saturday
(R4 #4) Mt. Zion-Jonesboro at (R1 #1) Houston County, 5 p.m. Saturday
(R8 #3) Dacula at (R5 #2) Alexander, 7 p.m. Saturday
(R7 #4) Pope at (R6 #1) South Cobb
(R4 #3) Stephenson at (R1 #2) Northside-Warner Robins, 6 p.m. Friday
(R3 #4) Evans at (R2 #1) Glynn Academy, 6 p.m. Friday
(R6 #3) Sequoyah at (R7 #2) Alpharetta, 7 p.m. Friday
(R5 #4) Alexander at (R8 #1) Lanier, 6 p.m. Friday
(R1 #3) Lee County vs. (R4 #2) Forest Park, 6 p.m. Saturday at Mundy’s Mill
(R2 #4) Richmond Hill at (R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers
(R7 #3) Pope at (R6 #2) Creekview, 6 p.m. Friday
(R8 #4) Gainesville at (R5 #1) Hughes, 7 p.m. Friday
(R2 #3) Brunswick at (R3 #2) Grovetown, 6 p.m. Friday
(R1 #4) Houston County at (R4 #1) Lovejoy, 5:30 p.m. Friday
(R5 #3) New Manchester at (R8 #2) Winder-Barrow
(R6 #4) Dalton at (R7 #1) Northview, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R3 #3) Lakeside-Evans at (R2 #2) Bradwell Institute, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R4 #4) M.L. King at (R1 #1) Valdosta, 7 p.m. Friday
(R8 #3) Dacula at (R5 #2) Douglas County, 6 p.m. Friday
(R7 #4) Johns Creek at (R6 #1) Harrison, 6 p.m. Friday