The new year is underway and there are three programs that are represented in both the boys and girls polls: Baldwin, Marist and Jefferson. As a result, opponents and the fans attending these games will get the opportunity to see a double-dose of ranked squads taking the court as region play heats up and the back half of the season unfolds. As January plays out, there are several big-time matchups to keep an eye on. Closing out this week, Jefferson will take on East Hall on the road Jan. 7 in a great county and Region 8 showdown. East Hall is currently 13-2 overall and 2-1 in Region play, but the Vikings are yet to take on Jefferson. Cedar Shoals served East Hall a massive 60-37 defeat back on Dec. 10 and so this will be a good opportunity to see if East Hall can stack up against Jefferson—which is 13-1 overall and 3-0 in Region 8. Jefferson previously defeated Cedar Shoals 74-53 on the road, so a Dragons win would solidify their status as the team to beat in Region 8. Next week will have more big boys matchups to prepare for. On Jan. 11, No. 8 Fayette County will visit No. 1 ranked McDonough and No. 2 Westover will visit No. 7 Bainbridge. The McDonough boys ascended to the top of the Class 4A polls over the Holidays with a 34-29 win over previous No. 1 ranked Baldwin. Since that victory, McDonough has won four-straight to improve to 12-1 and captured the Morris Bank Holiday Classic Championship. Even more notable, Westover scored a 65-56 win over Baldwin and that win and Thursday’s 54-46 victory over Perry improved the Patriots’ record to 10-0. Baldwin’s two recent defeats showcase the depth and excitement within 4A and there is a long list of contenders loading the current poll. Four of McDonough’s top 5 scorers are underclassmen—including junior Amon McDowell (16.5 ppg), junior Daavion Thomas (14.5 ppg), sophomore Keenan Gray (9.8 ppg) and junior Avante Nichols (7.9 ppg). Nichols transferred in from New Creation Christian this offseason and is a 6-foot-3 wing player. Westover’s Kemari Leverette made four 3-pointers in the win over Baldwin and finished with 12 points and teammates Effrin Smith (16), Keshay Walton (11) and Cameron Cromer (10) also finished in double-figures. Baldwin’s Rudolph Satcher has led the Bravves with 16.4 ppg this season and he is the team’s most reliable free-throw shooter as well.
Westover’s trip to Bainbridge precedes another top 10 showdown on Jan. 14 as the Patriots host No. 6 Monroe. On the girls side, No. 8 North Oconee will travel to No. 1 Jefferson on Jan. 14. The Jefferson girls will have another big Region 8 game on Jan. 21 at home against No. 9 Cedar Shoals. Jefferson is off to a strong 12-1 start and its lone loss came to Region 8 rival Cedar Shoals 50-36. The Dragons’ star-studded roster includes Deshona Gaither. Cedar Shoals is 8-3 this year and its lone loss came to Region 8′s North Oconee 62-48. At this point, North Oconee is the lone team in Region 8 without a loss and it is evident that Region 8 will be an exciting battle to follow this year. North Oconee is 9-5 this year and has no Class 4A losses at this point.
Region 1 is yet to get into the thick of region play and at this point it is 11-2 Thomas County Central making major statements this season. The Yellow Jackets’ only two losses are to Fitzgerald and Thomasville and they have also posted victories over both opponents this season. Thomas County Central will open region play Jan. 4 at Dougherty before a Jan. 7 home game against Bainbridge on Jan. 7. Thomas County Central will have to find a way to slow down a 9-4 Bainbridge team that has not lost to a Class 4A opponent this year. The Bearcats’ feature 6-foot-3 Mercer-commit and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Detavia Salter—who is scoring 12.1 ppg to go with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Carver-Columbus was previously mentioned and the Tigers reside in Region 2 with programs like LaGrange, Hardaway and Troup. The Troup Tigers’ have two of the top scorers in the classification with junior Alexia Murphy (17.7 ppg) and Aniya Palmer (13.7).
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