Top-ranked Johnson-Savannah’s girls will play region 3-3A rival and No. 2-ranked and state runner-up Beach on Friday, and the Atomsmashers are carrying a semifinal-loss-sized chip on their collective shoulders.
Johnson won back-to-back 3A titles in 2018 and 2019 before losing in the semifinals to eventual-champion Greater Atlanta Christian last season.
The loss left the Atomsmashers wanting more.
“Since we walked off the floor in Valdosta, they have had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” said coach Brandon Lindsey. “They were a little bit sad, and they did not like the way things ended.”
Consider that loss fuel for another deep run.
The Atomsmashers have outscored opponents 330-120 in five games and have been playing with a purpose. The offensive onslaught from Johnson has been accompanied by stifling defense.
Johnson has not allowed more than 34 points in any of its five games, and that came in its 80-34 victory in the opener against New Hampstead. Johnson allowed 29 points against Jenkins, ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, then defeated the Warriors 60-19 in a rematch.
Three players are averaging double figures -- juniors Amani Hamilton and K’lya Hankerson and senior Tiana Williams.
“They are an electric group,” Lindsey said. “It’s amazing how time flies because I remember when these young girls were just in the seventh and eighth grade, you know, playing middle-school basketball, and to see them leading the way for us is remarkable.”
Hamilton leads with 21.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and one steal per game. Hankerson scores 12.4 points per game with 8.6 rebounds and 4.4 blocks. Senior Tiana Williams adds 10.2 points with 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
“Amani is 6-foot-1 and can play all around,” he said. “She can handle the basketball, shoot, play inside. K’lya plays on the wing and down low and can play three or four positions. We have some well-rounded individuals leading the way for us right now.”
Beach, which lost to GAC in the championship game last season, is 5-2 and 2-0 in region play. Senior Kaila Rougier leads with 24 points. The Bulldogs are coming off a 67-18 victory against Groves on Dec. 11.
Top-ranked Sandy Creek boys, the former 4A power, is 8-4 this season, 2-0 in 5-3A and has spent the first portion of the season defeating highly ranked programs.
The Patriots opened the season defeating Class 2A No. 1 Pace Academy 63-59 and has since beaten Class 7A No. 4 McEachern 78-57, Class 7A No. 1 Milton 76-73, Class 5A No. 3 Tri-Cities 73-6 and Class 6A No. 3 Kell 72-66.
Its four losses were to Class 7A No. 2 Grayson, 66-54, Class 6A No. 1 Wheeler, 62-61, Class 5A No. 2 Eagle’s Landing, 72-58, and Class 7A No. 7 Newton. The Patriots will try to improve to 3-0 in region play against Douglass on Friday.
Other notable boys games:
-- No. 2 Windsor Forest will face Class 4A No. 8 Jenkins on Friday before entering region play against No. 4 Johnson-Savannah on Saturday. Windsor Forest beat Jenkins 77-68 on Nov. 21 and defeated Southeast Bulloch 75-64 on Dec. 8. The Knights are led by 6-foot-7 junior D’Ante Bass, who scored 25 points, had four assists and 15 rebounds against Jenkins earlier this season.
-- No. 4 Johnson-Savannah will put its 6-0, 2-0 record on the line against local-rival Beach on Friday before being tested by No. 2 Windsor Forest on Saturday. The Atomsmashers are led by senior Emondre Bowles, who averages 23.5 points. Sophomore Antonio Baker averages 15.5 points per game.
-- No. 5 LaFayette opens its region 6-3A schedule against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe on Friday, and the Ramblers (6-0) will hope to remain perfect. LaFayette will then play No. 10 Murray County on Tuesday in a 6-3A game.
Class 3A Girls Top 10
3. Coahulla Creek
4. Lumpkin County
5. Cross Creek
8. Greater Atlanta Christian
9. Cedar Grove
10. Stephens County
Class 3A Boys Top 10
1. Sandy Creek
2. Windsor Forest
3. Hart County
7. Cross Creek
10. Murray County