Class 2A blog: Season recap

March 11, 2021 Macon - Pace Academy players celebrate their victory over Columbia during the 2021 GHSA State Basketball Class AA Boys Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Thursday, March 11, 2021 Pace Academy won 73-42 over Columbia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
March 11, 2021 Macon - Pace Academy players celebrate their victory over Columbia during the 2021 GHSA State Basketball Class AA Boys Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Thursday, March 11, 2021 Pace Academy won 73-42 over Columbia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Last week in Macon, the Class 2A basketball season concluded with Pace Academy’s boys and Josey’s girls taking home the state championships. Go here to read Stan Awtrey’s coverage of the boys game between Pace Academy and Columbia, and go here to read Chip Saye’s coverage of the girls game between Josey and Fannin County.

On Monday, the AJC released its final rankings for the boys and girls. Here’s a look at 2A:

Boys

1. Pace Academy (28-1)

2. Columbia (21-7)

3. Thomasville (19-2)

4. Lovett (20-8)

5. Swainsboro (19-2)

6. Washington County

7. Butler (20-5)

8. Laney (16-8)

9. Chattooga (17-4)

10. Westside-Augusta (17-7)

Girls

1. Josey (20-6)

2. Fannin County (23-5)

3. Butler (21-5)

4. Elbert County (23-3)

5. Washington County (17-2)

6. Early County (16-1)

7. Columbia (17-8)

8. East Laurens (16-3)

9. Rabun County (19-7)

10. Callaway (15-7)

Before we look ahead to spring sports already in progress, let’s reflect on some key storylines in 2A from the 2020-21 basketball season.

1. COVID, COVID, COVID. You can’t talk about anything without also mentioning COVID-19′s impact on it. When it came to GHSA basketball, there were a fresh set of challenges different from those in football and other fall sports, but all along the GHSA and coaches were confident the season would be completed.

For starters, games were played indoors, and in front of little-to-no fans. That made for some quietly-played basketball. As a result, technical foul calls may have gone up, as one school official speculated, because everything coaches and players said could be easily heard by game officials without the crowd noise. Also, teams and cheerleaders were to supply nearly all energy in absence of a packed gym.

Games were canceled, schedules were impacted and teams missed weeks due to protocols, with some programs shutting down more than once during the season.

Some school districts started their seasons late, giving its member schools even more rust to shake off given the GHSA canceled summer activities, leaving schools with no offseason to prepare. The result was teams taking months to gel, so it wasn’t until the postseason that the who’s who of 2A started to emerge. Josey, for instance, wasn’t even ranked when the playoffs began, but wound up state champions.

2. Pace Academy leads Atlanta-area invasion of Region 6. The Pace Academy Knights reclassified into Region 6 of 2A, along with the Lovett Lions — both came from 3A — and the Columbia Eagles, who came from 5A. Those teams made up three-fourths of the semifinalists, with Region 1′s Thomasville the outlier.

As dominant as Region 6 was, the Knights are in a class of their own. They now stand as back-to-back champions after winning 3A last year, and according to the MaxPreps computer rankings, they’re No. 16 in the country. Led by Matthew Cleveland, Madison Durr, Cole Middleton and Josh Reed, the Knights steamrolled through the playoffs, winning all games by double digits, including 73-42 over Columbia in the title game.

Knights third-year coach Sharman White now has nine state titles between Pace Academy and Miller Grove, where he won six in a row from 2009-14 and a seventh in 2016.

In addition to the Knights, the Eagles and Lions were also dominant forces in 2A. The Eagles began the season unranked, but entered the polls when they beat Lovett in mid-January. The Lions would win the rematch, which came in the 6-2A semifinals, and the Eagles became the No. 3 seed. The Eagles beat No. 2 seed Lovett again in the state semifinals, but not before the Lions knocked off defending 2A champions Swainsboro on the road in the quarterfinals.

The Lions could never break from Pace Academy’s shadow, going 0-3 against the Knights this season, and ultimately they couldn’t get past Columbia either. Nonetheless, they were still ranked in the top six or higher all season, and deservedly so.

For the Eagles, it was their deepest run since 2014. In they playoffs, they were fueled by the play of Kawasiki Ricks and most of their wins came down to the wire. That earned them the nickname “cardiac kids” from coach Dr. Phil McCcary.

3. Cleveland, Mutombo and Timpkins have shot at next-level stardom. Pace Academy’s Matthew Cleveland, Lovett’s Ryan Mutombo and Early County’s Makayla Timpkins are all nationally-ranked prospects who have the potential to do big things in college.

Cleveland is a 5-star in the 247Sports composite, where he’s the No. 22 player in the country, No. 6 overall small forward and No. 2 in Georgia. He’s signed to play at Florida State, where he’s considered to be a one-and-done candidate.

Another one-and-done candidate is Mutombo. A 4-star, he’s rated as the No. 108 overall player, No. 16 center and No. 6 in Georgia. He’ll play at Georgetown for “Uncle Ewing” as he’s referred to by the Mutombos, who discuss Ryan’s future in Episode 21 of The Class 2A Blogcast.

Timpkins, a 4-star forward, is rated by espnW as the No. 48 player in the country. Like Cleveland, she has signed with Florida State. In her senior season for the Lady Bobcats, she averaged 32.5 points on 63-percent shooting (229 of 365) from the field, 14.6 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 3.4 steals.

4. Josey Lady Eagles emerge from Laney’s shadow. For 13 long years, and 37 grueling games, the Lady Eagles came up short against their crosstown rivals Laney — until this year, when they beat the Lady Wildcats twice in a row to start a new streak of their own. From there, they captured the program’s first title since 1998, when they won 3A.

Arieonna Booker led the Lady Eagles in points (10.8), rebounds (7.2) and steals (2.6), and she is only a sophomore. She’ll have a solid supporting cast returning with her next season, led by Aqoyas Cody and Ky’Shonna Brown, and they should be competitive again.

5. Elbert County Lady Blue Devils burst onto scene. The Lady Blue Devils, led by underclassmen, rose to No. 1 ahead of the state playoffs, where they advanced to the quarterfinals after blowout wins in the first two rounds.

The Lady Blue Devils’ top three scorers were sophomores: Aaniyah Allen (16.2 points), Niyah Moon (12 points), Terrace Hester (10.9) points. In addition, all significant contributors from last year’s team are expected to return.

Expect a fight for Region 8 between Elbert County and Rabun County in the years to come.

6. Fannin County’s buzzer-beater for the ages in the 2A semifinals. No sense in explaining. Just watch the magic starting at the 2:35.15 mark.

Follow the AJC’s Class 2A coverage on Twitter. Listen and subscribe to The Class 2A Blogcast on Apple or anywhere podcasts are available.