Basketball quarterfinal primer: Westminster seeks more history

The quarterfinals of the state basketball tournament are Tuesday and Wednesday with 64 games around the state. (Hyosub Shin /



The quarterfinals of the state basketball tournament are Tuesday and Wednesday with 64 games around the state. (Hyosub Shin /

The second round of the state basketball tournament took out 40 top-10 teams, mostly in the boys ranks, where No. 1 McDonough and No. 2 Pace Academy in Class 4A went down.

The quarterfinals are Tuesday and Wednesday, when nine teams will make their first final-eight appearances in history and 10 others are in the third round first time in more than 20 years.

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Unranked Westminster, under new coach Matt Hixenbaugh, is among the history makers. The Wildcats took out McDonough 58-50 last weekend and reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1976. The Wildcats will travel to No. 5 Baldwin on Wednesday for a chance to reach their first semifinal since 1967.

Hixenbaugh, who led Mount Pisgah to a 2021 state championship and 2023 runner-up finish, inherited a team that was 10-17 last season but is 21-9 now.

“We are focusing on staying in the present moment and extending our time together as much as possible,” Hixenbaugh said. “We recognize it has been a special season, and the support from our school has been impactful. Once the season ends, we will begin to embrace the historical nature of our success, but at a school that is used to success in everything we do (Westminster has more than 250 state titles in all sports), it is nice to play our part.”

Holy Innocents’, ranked No. 4, beat Pace, the defending champion, 62-58 in a game between Atlanta schools four miles apart.

Here’s a closer look at the tournament’s middle round.

Best games (boys): Defending Class 5A champion and No. 1-ranked Kell is home Wednesday to No. 3 Dutchtown, a team that has reached the quarterfinals six of the past seven seasons and won in 2020. Another defending champion and No. 1 team, Sandy Creek of Class 3A, is at home to No. 3 Monroe of Albany. Four other No. 1 teams are facing ranked opponents. They are Grayson of Class 7A (vs. No. 7 Peachtree Ridge), Alexander of 6A (vs. No. 9 Grovetown), Westside-Macon of 2A (vs. No. 10 Model) and Mount Vernon of A Division I (vs. No. 7 East Laurens).

Best games (girls): No. 1 Union Grove, aiming to make the semifinals for the first time since the Henry County school opened in 2000, plays at No. 2 Maynard Jackson in Class 5A. In another part of Atlanta in 4A, No. 5 Jones County is at No. 3 Midtown. Midtown’s last semifinal was 1986, when the school was known as Grady. In Class 4A, No. 4 Stockbridge can make its first semifinal (school opened in1964) but must win at No. 1 Baldwin. No. 3 Holy Innocents’ plays at No. 2 Hardaway of Columbus in 4A. In 7A. No. 1 Grayson is home against No. 5 Norcross, a four-time former champion. Through nationally ranked, Grayson has never reached a state semifinal.

Newcomers: Boys programs making their first quarterfinal appearances are Hebron Christian, New Hampstead, North Oconee, Seckinger, Whitewater and Woodstock. The oldest of those is Woodstock, opened in 1996. North Oconee and New Hampstead, both ranked in Class 4A, play each other Wednesday at North Oconee. Girls programs in their first quarterfinals are Athens Christian, Chattahoochee County and Starr’s Mill. Athens Christian, which joined the GHSA in 1994, has been at it the longest and is about to leave as a GIAA member starting this fall. The Eagles are 23-4 and ranked No. 3 and travel to No. 7 Lamar County on Tuesday in what will be a historic win for either. Lamar hasn’t made the semifinals since 1976.

Drought breakers: Westminster was the biggest, but another Atlanta team, Maynard Jackson, is in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1991, when the school was known as Southside. Other boys programs making their first appearances in more than 20 years are Southwest-Macon (1991), Paideia (1998), Toombs County (1998), Athens Academy (2000) and Winder-Barrow (2002). Girls programs in that category are White County (1984), Stockbridge (1991), East Laurens (2001) and Pope (2001).

History seekers: Columbia of DeKalb County stands in the way of two Macon dreamers in Class 2A. Southwest-Macon’s boys, which dominated Georgia’s highest class in the 1970s and 1980s, can reach their first semifinal since 1990. They play fifth-ranked Columbia at home Wednesday. Central-Macon’s girls, ranked No. 3, have not made a semifinal since their school opened in 1970. They play at No. 9 Columbia on Tuesday. Also in Class 2A, Murray County’s girls, ranked No. 7, can reach the semifinals for the first time with a victory at No. 6 Butler. Murray County opened in the 1930s.

Basketball powers: Eighteen schools have both their girls and boys teams in the quarterfinals. They are Baldwin, Butler, Campbell, Carver-Columbus, Clinch County, Columbia, East Laurens, Grayson, Greenforest, Hebron Christian, Holy Innocents’, Maynard Jackson, Hughes, Milton, Monroe, Norcross, North Oconee and Woodward Academy. Grayson and Greenforest are No. 1 in both rankings.

What’s next: The semifinals are Friday and Saturday at neutral sites, which are Georgia State (7A), West Georgia (6A, 5A), Fort Valley State (4A, A Division II), Savannah State (3A) and Georgia College (2A, A Division I).