Class 2A blog: Boys season recap

Westside-Augusta is first with consecutive 2A titles in nearly a decade
The Westside Patriots celebrate their Class 2A championship, an 89-81 win over Providence Christian, March 9, 2023.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

The Westside Patriots celebrate their Class 2A championship, an 89-81 win over Providence Christian, March 9, 2023.

The Westside Patriots closed the season the same as last — as champions of 2A. With their 89-81 win overtime win against Providence Christian in the championship, the Patriots became the first school to repeat as 2A champions since GAC in 2013 and 2014.

Setting out to win consecutive championships presents its challenges. For the Patriots, their coach Jerry Hunter believes the biggest challenges this season was early conditioning and valuing popularity over relevancy. The senior-heavy squad spent the first two months of the season working their way back to the level that won their their first championship since 1995.

The Patriots finished 25-7, but five of those losses came before the new year. By the time the region playoffs rolled around, a repeat felt within reach.

“Having veteran high school seniors was important,” Hunter said. “As other teams (in the state tournament) were beginning to mature, we’d already been there. That’s one thing I brought to their attention when we got to the Final Four. I said, ‘Look around. Only one of these teams was here last year, and only one of them has a chance to repeat. God has chosen you.’ That put the focus in place. It’s not about the (struggles of the regular season), it’s about no one else being able to say they can repeat.”

The experience and senior leadership may have been the difference against Providence Christian. When the Patriots trailed 52-41 with 3:08 left in the third quarter, AuMauri Tillman scored the Patriots’ next nine points and they closed the gap to force overtime.

“We had to fall back on our level of training,” Hunter said. “Pretty soon you meet teams (in the playoffs) where the skillsets match. Then, it comes down to will power, and who has put in the work to trust their will. When fatigue sets in, doubt sets in as well. ...Being in the moment, we didn’t look at it as down by points, but down by possessions. Eleven is a large number, but it’s only four possessions. That puts things in perspective. In overtime, we went into another gear, and we turned on the defense.”

With 1:39 left in overtime, the Patriots took a 77-76 lead on a tip-in from Jalexs Ewing. The Patriots never let go of that lead.

As tough as back-to-back championships were, a three-peat may prove even more difficult. Their top three players, Khalon Hudson, Ewing and Tillman, all graduate. Hudson averaged 19.1 points on 55-percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.1 steals and a block and, for the second year in a row, has made his case for AJC’s 2A player of the year, which he was arguably snubbed from last year in favor of Pace Academy’s Josh Kelly, now at Cincinnati.

Tillman led the team with 71 3-pointers on 36-percent shooting and averaged 12.7 points, four rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals.

Hunter said both Hudson and Tillman are mulling next-level opportunities.

Ewing, who averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 assists and a block, is leaning heavily toward Hampton University.

The Patriots were the state’s only repeat champions on the boys side.

As for the Providence Christian Storm, their remarkable run came to an end just short of the ultimate goal, what would have been the program’s first championship. Relying on 3-point shooting and defense, they eliminated last year’s 4A champions, Spencer, in the quarterfinals and had the Patriots on the ropes when many assumed they were a considerable underdog.

The Storm never stopped being overlooked. Despite taking the Patriots to overtime in the championship, they finished No. 3 in the rankings behind Columbia, a team Westside beat 55-52 in the semifinals.

Devin McClain, the Storm’s best player, graduates, but Samuel Thacker, who holds all the school’s 3-point shooting records, returns for his senior year. They’ve advanced in the playoffs each of the previous four seasons and they’ll have a good shot at continuing that streak in coach Joey Thacker’s system.

Other highlights:

  • The Model Blue Devils reached the program’s first-ever Final Four.
  • Unranked Dodge County had a double-overtime win for the ages over No. 5 Putnam County in Round 2, advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
  • North Cobb Christian’s Albert Wilson and Southwest-Macon’s Selton Farrar co-led 2A in scoring at 21.1 points a game, with Wilson scoring 528 points in 25 games to Farrar’s 506 in 24.

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