Class 3A: Semifinal coverage from Savannah State University

Hebron Christian, Wesleyan girls; Sandy Creek, Johnson-Savannah boys advance to finals
Hebron Christian players celebrate their 68-36 victory over Lumpkin County in the Class 3A girls basketball championship game at the Macon Coliseum on March 10, 2023.

Credit: Chip Saye

Credit: Chip Saye

Hebron Christian players celebrate their 68-36 victory over Lumpkin County in the Class 3A girls basketball championship game at the Macon Coliseum on March 10, 2023.

Girls: Hebron Christian 97, Monroe 42

Defending Class 3A girls state champion Hebron Christian (29-2) entered Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Monroe at Savannah State University ranked as high as No. 11 in the latest MaxPreps National Rankings and the Lions closed out a stunning 97-42 victory to validate their national prowess and make a strong case to ascend in the next edition of polls. The Lions’ 55-point blowout in the semifinals is a pattern seen throughout their run to the finals and the team will head to Macon with a 49.5 average margin of victory through their last four rounds. Hebron Christian got off to a 27-7 lead after the first quarter and maintained a stifling full-court press for the entire game. The Lions grew their lead to 57-18 at the half after pouring on 30 points in the second quarter. Head coach Jan Azar called a timeout with her Lions leading 38-13 with 3:40 left in the half and Hebron Christian outscored the Hurricanes 19-5 to close out the half. Junior Mia James hit five three-pointers in the first half and was responsible for 11 points in the final 3:40 of the first half. Camryn Register was scoreless until the final minute of the half and knocked down back-to-back three-pointers, including a corner three with just one second left on the clock.

Hebron Christian outscored Monroe 20-14 in the third quarter to expand its lead to 77-32 and forced an abbreviated six-minute final frame. Danielle Osho, who scored five points in the first half, finished the game with 17 points and scored 10 in the third quarter. Register knocked down another pair of three-pointers in the third and finished with 12 points.

Monroe was led by 6-foot-1 freshman Kie’Aundria Acree’s team-high 18 points. The Golden Tornadoes also got nine points from Ciarra Lunsford and an eight-point performance from freshman Taylor McKinzy. Monroe finished the season with a 21-10 overall record.

Hebron had five different players notch double figures, including Jones (24), Osho (17), Register (12), Ja’kerra Butler (12) and Aubrey Beckham (12). Nickyia Daniel added eight points and Aniya Moodie netted all four of her points in the fourth quarter.

Boys: Sandy Creek 66, Carver-Columbus 32

Defending state champion Sandy Creek weathered a slow start and locked down the Tigers with man-to-man defense to clinch a 34-point victory and head into the finals with a 47.3 average margin of victory through the first four rounds. Sandy Creek’s Amari Brown opened the scoring with 5:50 left in the first quarter and Jacobi Robinson capitalized off a Carver turnover to push the lead to 4-0. Champ Simpson scored Carver’s first basket of the game on a put-back off the glass with 3:02 left in the first quarter. Sandy Creek’s 6-foot-8 senior Micah Smith answered with his first basket to push the Patriots back up 6-2. Carver’s Tristian Givens went one-of-two at the foul line and then Sandy Creek’s Lattimore and Carver’s Simpson traded late three-pointers to close out a 9-6 defensively-dominant first quarter.

The Patriots opened the second quarter on a 12-0 run and grew a 21-6 lead before Carver finally broke the drought with just 3:13 left in the half at the foul line. Carver’s Jakobe Caslin drew a foul on a three-point attempt and the Tigers would score all seven of their second-quarter points at the foul line. Simpson’s put-back lay-up and three-pointer were the only field goal attempts made by Carver in the entire first half. Sandy Creek’s offense was fueled by Smith—who came up big with a fast break dunk with 36.6 left to push the lead to 25-13 and close out the half with 10 points.

Sandy Creek’s Jared White got the Patriots going in the third quarter with back-to-back baskets and Brown closed out the third quarter with a corner three-pointer the buzzer to push the lead to 47-23. Smith finished with a game-high 20 points and capped Sandy Creek’s 16-2 fourth quarter lead with a two-handed reverse dunk. Carver quickly inbounded the ensuing possession, but Smith beat the Tigers down the court and earned a standing ovation with a block at the rim to force a timeout with just 3:32 left and Sandy Creek up 60-25. Jacobi Robinson finished with 13 points and the Patriots also got key contributions from Brown (9), Josh Hales (7) and Green (8). Carver’s offense struggled against Sandy Creek’s man-to-man defense and Simpson led the Tigers with eight points, while Tristian Givens finished with six.

Girls: Wesleyan 71, Carver-Columbus 57

Wesleyan won its 11th-consecutive game to advance to the state championship under first-year head coach Ellen Paroli. The Lady Wolves used a 21-point fourth quarter to edge the Lady Tigers to get back to the tile game where they will take on Hebron Christian—which ended Wesleyan’s run last season in the semis 65-58.

Here is how they did it.

Wesleyan went on an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull away from Carver after things got interesting in the game and the lead was cut to single digits. During the crucial stretch, Chazadi Wright scored five points on her own, and Johanna Potter scored four points in the interior—while Bryanna Preston hit a jumper. This run gave Wesleyan some much-needed breathing room and helped them close out the game. Potter. was the leading scorer for the Lady Wolves with 18 points. Preston finished with 16 and Wright added 13 points.

The Wolves had a strong start to the game, jumping out to an 8-2 lead and taking a 23-11 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Their most impressive quarter of the game came in the second when they held the Lady Tigers to seven points. They did it with impressive ball pressure and building a wall around the rim. The Lady Wolves held a comfortable 37-18 lead at the break.

Carver-Columbus found their stride in the second half scoring 39 second-half points. The Lady Tigers went on an 8-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter and made things interesting. They were forcing turnovers and getting to the basket. Jazmin Thornton and Camryn Thomas were pivotal in the run that cut the deficit to nine points. Thomas finished with 18 points and Thornton added nine points. Carver-Columbus scored their highest total of the game in the fourth with 23 points.

The end of the third quarter was where the momentum started to build for the Lady Tigers. In the third quarter, Carver-Columbus scored 16 points. The Lady Tigers were applying ball pressure and were able to force the Lady Wolves into some mistakes. The momentum of the game began to shift at this point, but it wasn’t enough for the Carver-Columbus to win.

The Lady Wolves will be seeking its first title since 2018. The win sets up a national matchup in the state championship against Hebron Christian with two of Georgia’s highest-rated teams. Wesleyan will also be taking on their former head coach Jan Azar, who was responsible for the strong run that saw them win six consecutive championships from 2008-2013.

Boys: Johnson-Savannah 55, Dougherty 51

Johnson-Savannah continued its phenomenal postseason run after drawing a charge with 17 seconds left in the game to outlast Dougherty in a tightly contested game that featured several lead changes. Saturday’s victory marked the Atmosmashers’ third consecutive win over a ranked opponent and positions the team one win away from achieving the program’s first state title since 2013 when they face Sandy Creek in Macon.

The pivotal stretch of the game happened after a big bucket from Cormari Jones as he extended Johnson-Savannah’s lead to 53-47. Dougherty’s Kaleke Singletary-Jinks cut the deficit back to two points after converting a difficult and one. The Trojans had a chance to tie the game at 53-53 but Markelle Jones missed both free throws. Dougherty was to get another critical stop to get the ball back. Jinks drove to the rim and drew contact like he did all fourth quarter but the defender was in the legal guarding position and drew the charge. It was a critical call because if it was called on Johnson-Savannah it would have been another and one for Jelks. The Atomsmashers were able to hit their free throws to close out the game and advance.

Favion Kirkwood carried the scoring load on offense, scoring nine of Johnson-Savannah’s 22 points in the first half. The third quarter would be the Cormari Jones show as he got it going and scored seven of his 17 points in the quarter. After a low-scoring first half, Johnson-Savannah had it going in the third quarter and built the biggest lead of the game at 14 points. Their defense also held Dougherty to just nine points in the third. The Atomsmashers outscored the Trojans 19-9 in the third quarter and started the third quarter on a 9-2 run. Kirkwood and Jones were instrumental in helping Johnson-Savannah build its lead in the third. Dougherty came storming back in the fourth quarter and was led by their defense. Their full-court pressure was causing turnovers that led to easy baskets in transition. The Trojans used this run to get back in the game after trailing by double-digits. Singletary-Jinks was the driving force behind a strong run in the fourth quarter. He single-handedly got Dougherty back in the game with his scoring. His relentless pursuit to the rim, while finishing through contact, got the Trojans back in the game after trailing by double-digits. He also converted three and one buckets in the quarter. Jinks finished with 18 points. Jawuan Jelks also added 11 points for the Trojans.