Class 2A: Semifinal coverage from Georgia College

Providence Christian boys to play Westside; Banks County girls will face Mount Paran

Credit: Adam Krohn

Credit: Adam Krohn

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Banks County Leopards never trailed in their 48-44 win over Josey, even holding a double-digit lead for a good chunk of the game, including into the second half. But the perennial-power Eagles went on a seemingly inevitable fourth-quarter run, pulling to within 37-36 with 2:44 left, and 39-38 with 1:58 left. Each time, however, the Eagles couldn’t pull ahead, because Leopards senior post Kamryn Grier wouldn’t let them.

Grier extended the Leopards lead to 39-36 with 2:10 left, giving them their first field goal of the quarter. She drilled two free throws to give them a 41-38 lead with 1:49 left. She scored eight of the team’s 14 fourth-quarter points, going 4-for-4 from the line, and junior guard Addison Hoard scored the other six points from the free throw line, icing the game with the Leopards’ final five points. Her two free throws with 3.5 seconds brought the score to its final margin.

Prior to that, the Eagles clung to life with a pair of 3-pointers with 13.5 seconds and 4.6 seconds remaining, cutting a Leopards seven-point lead to two.

The No. 3 Leopards (27-3), champions of Region 8, will play Mount Paran in the championship, where they’ll seek the first title in program history. The game is 1 p.m. Thursday at the Macon Coliseum.

This marks the Leopards second-ever trip to a state championship — they finished Class “B” runners-up in 1965.

Leopards coach Steven Shedd said the team never became discouraged down the stretch, when they saw a 30-17 lead with 4:04 left in the third dwindle to one point in the game’s waning minutes.

“It’s been that way all year,” he said. “You’re not going to to run away with the game against a team like Josey. Same thing with Central-Macon (in the quarterfinals). You know they’re going to make their run. Calmer heads have to prevail, and I feel like we kind of got our game, so it was about getting back to our game. Running our offense and not allowing them to speed us up. Just relax. Don’t let the moment get too big.

“I knew once we got (Josey in the bonus fouls), I could get Grier on the line. I felt good about it then. As soon as we could get the ball in her hand.”

Grier finished with 14 points, including 6-for-6 from the free throw line, and eight rebounds. Hoard had a game-high 19 points with five rebounds, four steals and three assists. Sophomore Ryleigh Murphy had 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from 3, and built the Leopards a 9-2 lead with three straight 3s to start the game.

Shedd said Murphy also started their quarterfinals matchup against Central with three consecutive 3s.

Though the Leopards didn’t know their championship opponent immediately following their win, Shedd said the team will be ready.

“I know that we’re playing with confidence,” Shedd said. “It doesn’t matter who we play against, we know they’re going to be good. We believe we’re here for a reason, and we feel like we’re a team of destiny. This program has never won a championship. We want to make history and finish it out.”

The No. 7 Eagles (25-4) a No. 2 seed from Region 4, reached the semifinals for a third consecutive year after winning 2A in 2021. They were led by senior Arieonna Booker and sophomore Shaniya Sanders, who had 13 points apiece.

Providence Christian boys 59, Model 49: For the second consecutive season, the Storm will play for a state championship and the opportunity to bring the program its first.

Devin McClain scored a game-high 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and had a team-high nine rebounds as the No. 3 Storm (27-4), who won Region 8, outpaced the Blue Devils (23-5), champions of Region 7.

The game stayed close throughout. The Storm led all but a minute in the first half, including 27-18 with 6:12 left, and took a 30-28 lead into halftime it would never relinquish. Still, the Blue Devils pulled to within 40-38 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.

It wasn’t until 1:34 remaining, when junior Sam Thacker’s 3-pointer made it 55-48 Storm, that they began to pull away. It was part of a 9-1 run that began with 4:28 left and closed the game, with their only double-digit lead coming from two Thacker free throws with eight seconds left.

Senior guard Thomas Malcolm (14 points) and Thacker (10) were the Storm’s other double-digit scorers. Thacker had a team-high five assists.

The Storm finished as runners-up in 1A Private last year, and will await the outcome of the 8 p.m. nightcap between Westside-Augusta vs. Columbia to learn their opponent.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Storm coach Joey Thacker said. “Both teams are really good. They’re really athletic. But we just played Spencer (in the quarterfinals), and they were the 4A champions last year. We won a game without shooting a 3. We’ve made about 315 3s this year, we only made (six) tonight. We found a way to win. That’s just a character thing.”

The championship is 3 p.m. Thursday, following the girls’ championship.

The Blue Devils, who reached the Final Four for the first time in school history, were led by Jakenes Heard’s 12 points.

Mount Paran girls 58, Landmark Christian 51: The top-ranked Eagles (31-1) are a win away from repeating as state champions after winning 1A Private last season for their first in program history.

Since the Eagles’ lone loss to Brookwood, 56-54, on Dec. 30, all of their wins, save one, have been by double-digits, including the Region and state tournaments. However this time, they were up against a War Eagles team led by junior Gabby Grooms, a guard verbally committed to Georgia Tech.

Grooms poured in a game-high 29 points, helping the War Eagles to a 27-25 halftime lead. Eagles coach Stephanie Dunn couldn’t remember the last time her team, who hadn’t been meaningfully challenged in months, didn’t have the lead after two quarters.

“We didn’t get alarmed,” Dunn said. “We knew we weren’t playin great. We just focused on playing more of an inside game, something a little more stable, and if we could do that, we would be OK.”

Less than a minute into the third quarter, Katali Youmans’ basket gave the Eagles a 29-27 lead and they never trailed again, though the War Eagles would hang around, trailing 44-37 heading into the fourth. The War Eagles would pull to within 45-41 with six minutes left but never got closer.

Now the Eagles face a Banks County team determined to win the program’s first state title, a year after they accomplished that same goal.

“They’re disciplined, they play well, they have size, they have shooters,” Dunn said. “So, we’ve just got to come out and play smarter on Thursday”

The Eagles had a balanced scoring attack led by 18 points from sophomore Jacalyn Myrthil, with sophomore Jessica Fields adding 15 on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, adding nine rebounds and six blocks. Another sophomore, Isabella Ramirez, had 10 points with five rebounds and three assists. Junior Ciara Alexander had 7, and Youmans had 7. Youmans, Murthil and junior Ciara Alexander each had four assists.

For the second year in a row, War Eagles (23-9), champions of Region 5, had the best finish in program history after reaching the 1A private quarterfinals last season. Outside of Grooms, sophomore Ivona Djikanovic was their only other double-digit scorer with 11.

Westside boys 55, Columbia 52: Senior Khalon Hudson pulled down 25 rebounds* and scored 12 points, including two free throws with 10.5 seconds left to make it 55-50 and all but seal the win, putting the the No. 2 Patriots (24-7) within a win over Providence Christian of being 2A’s first boys repeat champions since GAC in 2013 and 2014.**

The Patriots, champions of Region 4, led the entire second half, stretching the lead to as much as 38-28 early in the third quarter, but the top-ranked Eagles (30-2) refused to go away, tying the game at 43 to start the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t get any closer. They trailed 51-50 with possession, but with 11.4 seconds left, they turned the ball over without getting a shot off.

The Patriots put the game away on 4-for-4 free throw shooting, two each from Hudson and senior AuMauri Tillman, who had a team-high 13 points, four steals and four rebounds.

“It was about perseverance,” Patriots coach Jerry Hunter said. “Our guys were relentless tonight. We found something to play for. Columbia is a hell of a team and a hell of a program, and we kind of had some bumps along the way, but our character and composure showed late.”

Junior Demarco Middleton (11 points, seven assists, three rebounds) was the Patriots’ only other double-digit scorer, and senior Jalexs Ewing had nine points, three assists, two blocks and a steal.

Hunter is impressed by Providence Christian.

“That program is well-respected and I enjoy the fact that they made it to the championship game,” he said. “By God giving us the opportunity to have the chance to repeat, that’s a blessing within itself. So, we’re looking forward to playing a pretty good ball game with them.”

The Eagles reached the semifinals for the second time in three years after finishing 2A runners-up in 2021. The Patriots ended their season last year in the second round with an 82-72 win.

The Eagles, who won Region 5, were led by 11 points from seniors Terrell Wright and Kevin Bruce, with junior Jaden Baugh scoring 10 before fouling out with 2:29 left. Wright also had 17 rebounds and three blocks.

*Correction: A previous versions of the story had Hudson with a different rebound total

**Pace Academy won 3A in 2020, and 2A in 2021