The Tri-Cities and Tucker boys teams and the Lanier and Lovejoy girls advanced to the Class AAAAAA basketball championship games with semifinal victories Saturday at the University of West Georgia.
The top-ranked Tri-Cities boys beat Brunswick 83-74, and Tucker beat Heritage-Conyers 52-46. Lanier’s girls upset Forest Park 44-38 and will take on Lovejoy, which pulled away from Valdosta for a 69-46 victory.
The girls championship game will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Macon Centreplex, followed by the boys game at 3.
*Lanier 44, Forest Park 38: Lanier overcame a nightmarish first-half shooting performance and rallied from a seven-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining to upset second-ranked Forest Park and reach the state finals for the first time in program history.
The fourth-ranked Longhorns (28-3) scored 17 points in the first three quarters but trailed by just six after a layup by Mekala Fuller with 7:45 to play cut Forest Park’s lead to 26-20, and the Longhorns continued to chip away. Lanier pulled even for the first time in the game at 31-31 on a steal and layup by Fuller with 4:51 to play, then took its first lead a minute and a half later on a 3-pointer by Nala Lawrence.
Forest Park (27-5) answered with a layup by Sarah Matthews, but Christabel Ezumah gave Lanier the lead for good at 36-34 on a layup with 2:32 remaining. The Longhorns went 8-for-13 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes to put the game away.
“That’s my girls,” Lanier coach Timothy Slater said. “That’s how they play and that’s who they are. Tough games like that are won by character, and they’re won by who you are as a person. These girls have been playing together since the eighth grade. They play hard, and they play for each other.”
Lanier made just two field goals in the first half, shooting 2-for-24 from the field (8.3 percent) and 3-for-11 on free throws (27.3 percent) but trailed just 16-7 at the break. Fuller, the Lonhorns’ leading scorer, was held to two points in the first half but finished with a game-high 15. Lawrence made three 3-pointers in the second half and had 10 points, and Ezumah finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Forest Park’s leading scorer, Sania Feagin, battled foul trouble throughout. She picked up her second foul with 1:57 to play in the first quarter after scoring four of the Panthers’ first six points. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Destiny Thomas had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
*Lovejoy 69, Valdosta 46: Defending state champion Lovejoy (29-3) outscored fifth-ranked Valdosta 24-8 in the fourth quarter, holding the Region 1 champion to two field goals in the final eight minutes, to finally pull away for its 45th consecutive victory against Georgia opponents.
Top-ranked Lovejoy, which had seen a 17-point lead cut to seven heading into the fourth quarter, opened the final period with a 7-0 run on a layup by J’Auana Robinson, a three-point play by Genesis Bryant and a layup by Mariah Spain. Valdosta’s Ja’Mya Johnson made two free throws to cut the lead to 52-40, but Lovejoy scored 17 of the game’s next 19 points to put it away.
Anaya Boyd led Lovejoy with 17 points. Bryant finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot, and Robinson added 10 points.
Lovejoy took control early, with layups by Boyd, Bryant and Byana Hardy providing a 6-0 lead that prompted a Valdosta timeout less than three minutes into game. The lead grew to 15 points by halftime, but Valdosta made things interesting in the third quarter.
Valdosta (26-4) opened the second half with a 7-0 run on a 3-pointer by Johnson and two layups by Nia Allen that cut the lead to 32-24 with 5:58 remaining in the quarter, and the Wildcats eventually got within 42-35 on another layup by Allen with 1:36 left. Valdosta had a chance to pull even closer on its next possession, but Bryant forced a turnover and Avanna Preston made a 3-pointer that instead made it a 10-point game again. Johnson hit another 3-pointer, her fourth of the quarter, to make it a 42-37 game heading into the final eight minutes. That’s when Lovejoy put it away.
Johnson scored 17 points and Allen had 14 to lead Valdosta. The Wildcats got a boost from the return of Jayla Cody, who has been dealing with a knee injury. Cody finished with six points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
*Tri-Cities 83, Brunswick 74: Guards Titus Hunter and Da’Marcus Johnson combined for 48 points and Tri-Cities never trailed in a victory over Brunswick that put the Bulldogs in the state finals for the first time in program history.
The Bulldogs (25-6) built their biggest lead of the game when a dunk by Hunter made it a 56-37 game with 4:26 to play in the third quarter, but Brunswick was still within 10 points early in the fourth. Tri-Cities then went on an 8-0 run that included six points by Hunter to rebuild the lead to 18. Brunswick did not get within 12 points again until less than a minute remained and the outcome was all but settled.
Tri-Cities led 23-20 after the first quarter and built the lead to 43-32 at halftime on a 3-pointer by Johnson in the final seconds of the half.
Hunter led Tri-Cities with 28 points, and Johnson had 20. Demetrius Rives finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“Toughness, that’s been the theme the whole season,” Tri-Cities coach Omari Forts said. “We have great guard play. Our guards have carried us all season, and that was the case in this victory as well. I’m super happy for them, but more importantly I’m happy for East Point, College Park and Hapeville.”
Brunswick (19-11) came into the game unranked but was the Region 2 champion. The Pirates were led be Kelan Walker and Jaden Dunham with 13 points each. Justin Walker had 10 points and five rebounds, and Joyful Hawkins had seven points and 10 rebounds.
*Tucker 52, Heritage-Conyers 46: Braelon Seals scored a game-high 17 points and was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 19 seconds to help sixth-ranked Tucker preserve a victory in a game that was tight throughout because both teams struggled from the field.
The Tigers (28-4) trailed 36-35 with 5:10 to play, but two free throws by Nate Ogbu gave Tucker the lead for good, and a three-point play by Montae Hall 13 seconds later gave the Tigers’ a four-point cushion. In the final minute, Heritage cut an eight-point deficit to two with 20 seconds left, but Seals put the game away.
Both teams were shooting below 26 percent from the field after three periods, but a higher-scoring fourth quarter, in which Tucker outscored the Patriots 22-17, helped those numbers a bit. Tucker finished at 30.6 percent (15-for-49), and Heritage was at 31.8 (14-for-44).
Hall, Tucker’s leading scorer for the season who had 29 points in a quarterfinal victory over Gainesville, finished with eight points on 2-for-12 shooting, but he was active in other ways, finishing with nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. And Hall got a lot of help from Seals and Ogbu, who scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Tucker didn’t score until Nick Watson made two free throws with 3:15 to play in the first quarter and didn’t make a field goal until Ogbu’s jumper about a minute later, but the slow start didn’t hurt the Tigers because Heritage had just four points at that point as well.
Heritage built its biggest lead on a free throw by Josh Guilford that made it 14-6 with 6:04 to play in the second quarter. Tucker battled back and grabbed the lead for the first time on Seals’ 3-pointer with seven seconds to play in the half that put the Tigers ahead 19-18. Neither team led by more than eight points the rest of the way.
Trelan Scott led Heritage with 16 points, and Guilford added 13.
Heritage (17-13), the No. 3 seed from Region 3, was the only third-place team remaining in Class AAAAAA (boys or girls).
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