The Class 4A State Champions will be crowned Wednesday at the Macon Centreplex. Baldwin and Griffin will tipoff at 5 p.m. in the girls finals ahead of Fayette County and Pace Academy at 7 p.m. in the boys championship. Here’s a look at each finalist and their resumes from the season.
Region 4, No. 1 Seed Fayette County Tigers (26-5)
Fayette County advanced to the state finals for the second time in the last three seasons and will take on Pace Academy for a chance to win its first-ever state title. The Tigers’ fell 54-53 to Baldwin in the 2021 Class 4A Finals and are making their return to Macon with a fresh blend newcomers and seniors that have made deep playoff runs before. Fayette County has lost just one game within Class 4A this season and that was an 81-80 overtime loss to rival Whitewater. The Tigers’ avenged that loss with a 75-61 victory on Jan. 24 and a 72-61 win on Feb. 17 to clinch the Region 4 championship. In the playoffs, Fayette County opened with a 98-73 win over New Hampstead and then held on for a dramatic 61-59 win over Bainbridge. Fayette County rallied from a 39-36 halftime deficit to Woodland in the quarterfinals before outscoring the Wolfpack 48-32 in the second half to secure an 83-71 win. Fayette County’s 73-67 win over Benedictine in the semifinals extended their win-streak to 13-straight. The Tigers won the opening tipoff and two passes later, sophomore Keith Gillespie had the Tigers up 3-0 with a corner three-pointer. Gillespie ended up connecting on a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter and helped the Tigers’ build an 18-16 lead. Fayette County dominated the second quarter 23-10 to go up 41-26 at the half and that scoring burst was fueled by senior RJ Kennedy—who sparked a 9-0 run in the quarter.
Region 5, No. 2 Seed Pace Academy Knights (24-7)
No. 2 seed Pace Academy (24-7) is one win away from achieving the program’s fifth all-time state title and third championship in the past four years. The Knights’ entered Class 4A this season after competing in Class 2A the previous two seasons and its only two losses within the classification occurred within Region 5—to a McDonough and Lovett team that they split games with. In the playoffs, Pace Academy bounced back from a two-point loss to Lovett in the region championship with a massive 67-28 win over Miller Grove. The Knights followed that win with a 58-41 road win over Walnut Grove and a 62-31 road win over Baldwin in the quarterfinals. Pace Academy squared off with a tough Westover team in the semifinals and closed out a 57-49 victory. “We did not play our best today, but the free throws were obviously huge,” said Pace Academy head coach Sharman White after the semifinals.” Pace Academy took a 34-31 lead into the fourth quarter and were were 24-of-30 from the free throw line throughout the game and 15-of-19 in the fourth quarter from the charity stripe. Kyle Green hit 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter and fueled his team-high 16 points with 14-of-16 shooting from the foul line. Eric Chatfield Jr. finished with 13 points and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the line. Senior Kendall Evans added 10 points and set the tone defensively with four blocks and LJ Moore added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Region 2, No. 2 Seed Baldwin Braves (24-8)
Baldwin is one win away from capturing the program’s first state championship since 1988, when the Braves captured a third-consecutive crown. Baldwin has been one of Georgia’s top programs in the decades since its last championship and this year’s team is determined to end the drought and start a new chapter. Baldwin’s talent and depth was on full display in the semifinals, where the Braves closed out a 58-45 victory over Holy Innocents’. Baldwin trailed 4-2 early in the contest, but quickly took over. Baldwin closed out the first quarter on a 14-5 run and a no-look pass from Jasmine Williams to a wide open Kassidy Neal under the basket helped push the lead to 20-9 early in the second quarter. “We weren’t going to change anything,” said Baldwin head coach Kizzy Walker about her team’s high tempo pace. “We were going to come out and play fast and play our style of basketball.” Neal led the Braves with 16 points in the first half as they took a 28-21 lead. She finished the game with a team-high 23 points and teammate Madison Ruff caught fire in the third quarter with 13 of her 17 points coming in the frame. Baldwin extended its lead to 44-33 heading into the fourth quarter and Zy’Keria Paschal stepped up with six of her eight points coming in the fourth quarter. “This has been a tough year,” said Walker. “We started off the year so slow, but the girls have focused and improved a ton.” Baldwin started the season 0-4 and were 5-7 before compiling an 18-1 record ever since.
Region 2, No. 1 Seed Griffin Bears (25-4)
Griffin (26-4) had never won in the semifinals prior to Wednesday’s 59-54 win over Hardaway (24-5) and advanced to the championship for the first time in program history. “They are a very gritty group. And these girls have experienced a lot of heart ache over the years,” said Griffin head coach Roy Johnson. “So they don’t want to go home and they especially don’t want to go home knowing they did not give a complete effort and fortunately we have one more opportunity to get it done.” Hardaway was also looking to make history and compete for its first state championship next week in Macon, but was unable to hold off the Bears’ in the fourth quarter. The Hawks trailed Griffin 27-25 at the half and used a 19-14 advantage in the third quarter to build a 44-41 lead. Trailing 44-41, Griffin opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 50-44 lead before closing out the victory. “Zy Thompson came up big for us,” said Johnson. “She had three fouls in the third quarter and so I didn’t want her to be in foul trouble in the fourth. When she came back the fourth, she had a couple steals and made some big free throws. That helped get Aaliyah Durham get going also. And that is our senior leadership. That is what they do.” Thompson finished with 15 points and Durham led with 15 points in the second half with a game-high 26 points. Bears teammate Leah Turner also reached double figures (11) and scored eight points in the second half. Hardaway was led by Mikayla Johnson (23), Akilah Shelton (8), Adazha Burrell (8) and Jenaiya Hardy (8).
DID YOU KNOW: PACE ACADEMY HEAD COACH SHARMAN WHITE HAS WON NINE ALL-TIME STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS HEADING INTO TIPOFF (MILLER GROVE 2009-14, 2016 and PACE ACADEMY 2020-21).
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