Class 4A Blog: State Championship Primer

A rack of basketballs are shown before the game between McEachern and Norcross in their quarterfinal round of the Class 7A boys GHSA boys basketball playoffs at McEachern High School, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Powder Springs, Ga.  (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

A rack of basketballs are shown before the game between McEachern and Norcross in their quarterfinal round of the Class 7A boys GHSA boys basketball playoffs at McEachern High School, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Powder Springs, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Class 4A will crown two new champions this year and the Baldwin girls are the only finalist that has previously won a state title. The Braves won three-straight in 1986-88 and will look to break that title drought, while the Hardaway girls, North Oconee boys and Holy Innocents’ boys sit a win away from their historic first. The girls will tipoff Wednesday at 5 p.m. after the conclusion of the Class A Div. II double-header and the boys will play in the fourth and final game on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

BOYS: North Oconee Titans: 29-3, Region 8

North Oconee has been building off a historic season and is now one win away from its first-ever title. The Titans reached the quarterfinals and semifinals for the first-ever time this season and now will be debuting on the championship stage, while riding an 18-game win-streak. The Titans’ semifinal victory turned out to be one of the most dramatic games and finishes of the entire basketball season. Trailing 64-63, Sophomore Khamari Brooks corralled a rebound with the clock ticking and saved the season on his second put back attempt with a thrilling buzzer-beater to give North Oconee the 65-64 victory. Baldwin led 13-11 after the first quarter but an 18-12 North Oconee run gave the Titans a 29-25 lead at halftime. Baldwin regained the lead through a 25-21 run in the third quarter to enter the fourth quarter tied at 50. Five players did the scoring for North Oconee and Brooks led with 28 points while Justin Wise added 14 points and Justin Payne tallied 10 points. Byrd Carter (8 points) and Evan Montgomery (5 points) capped scoring for the Titans. North Oconee can play extremely tough down the stretch and that was shown in its 78-58 quarterfinal win over New Hampstead. The Phoenix went on a 15-2 scoring run to take a brief 34-31 lead, but North Oconee rallied to go up 47-46 heading into the fourth where they outscored New Hampstead 31-12.

BOYS: Holy Innocents’ Golden Bears: 26-6, Region 6

Holy Innocents’ reaches the finals battle tested and kept its season alive with a clutch 62-58 win over defending state champion Pace Academy in the second round. The Golden Bears trailed early before sparking a 13-0 scoring run to take a 15-7 lead after the first quarter. Holy Innocents’ grew its lead to 17 points before taking a 33-24 advantage into the break and were fueled by Devin Hutchinson’s 13 points and Caleb Wilson’s 10 points and four blocked shots in the first half. Hutchinson continued to keep the Golden Bears out front and poured on 16 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 29 points. Holy Innocents’ led 47-37 heading into the final frame before securing the victory. In the semifinals, Holy Innocents’ held off Benedictine 52-45 and were led by the 6-foot-10 Wilson’s 18 points and 21 rebounds. The Bears led 45-33 with two minutes remaining before closing out the victory. “This is big,” Wilson said. “I feel like as a freshman when we didn’t even make it to state and then last year we lost in the first round and now this year coming up big to make it to the state championship is exciting. …We just have to finish the drill.” Holy Innocents’ made a massive leap from last year’s 16-12 finish and a 16-12 campaign in 2022 and carries a 15-game win-streak into the finals.

In the 63-49 quarterfinals victory over Whitewater, Wilson helped lead the way with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Hutchinson stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks and four assists.

DID YOU KNOW? North Oconee (Seckinger) and Holy Innocents’ (Westminster) each avenged their only loss within Class 4A this season during their Region Championship victories.

GIRLS: Baldwin Braves: 28-8, Region 2

Baldwin has been on a mission this season after falling in a heartbreaker to rival Griffin in last year’s finals. The Braves have won 24-straight games heading into the championship and opened their playoff run with an 84-5 win over Southeast Bulloch. The No. 1 ranked Braves took down Trinity Christian (62-42) in the second round, Stockbridge (66-39) in the quarterfinals and then defeated Fayette County 55-32 this Saturday in the semifinals. Baldwin had little issues with the Tigers, leading 14-3 after the first quarter and 30-10 at the half in the romp. The Braves controlled a 43-25 lead entering the fourth quarter. “After losing last season, I think now is our time,” said Walker, a Georgia Southwestern alum who has coached the boys and girls teams at Baldwin after a stint coaching Sumter County in Americus. Janaye Walker finished with 12 points to pace Baldwin and Kassidy Neal added 11 points. Fayette County was led by Bri’Ann Freeman, who scored nine points. “After last season the girls are ready,” said Baldwin head coach Kizzi Walker. “Earlier in the season we faced some adversity regarding a selfish mentality about ‘Who is going to score the points?’ from the girls, but we moved past that and learned from our losses.” Walker turned in a game-high 20 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Trinity Christian and notched 17 points and 17 rebounds in the win over Stockbridge in the quarterfinals.

GIRLS: Hardaway Hawks, 27-4, Region 1

Hardaway and Baldwin were both stopped short by Griffin last season and swept the Class 4A competition this season to set up a phenomenal championship showdown. The Hawks have also stacked up a 24-game win-streak heading into tipoff and Hardaway has achieved this after a gauntlet of top notch opponents through the last four rounds. The Hawks opened the postseason with a 79-29 win over Troup and then eliminated defending state champion Griffin 64-33 to avenge last year’s defeat. In the quarterfinals, The Hawks outlasted No. 2 ranked Holy Innocents’ 59-53 and then dispatched North Oconee 57-44 in Saturday’s semifinal triumph. Hardaway led North Oconee 11-5 after the first quarter and 28-21 at the half. The Titans cut the lead to two possessions, 46-40 early in the fourth quarter, but Hardaway maintained control and survived a great shooting performance from the Titans beyond the arc. “They are a great shooting team and we had to make sure we closed out on their shooters and we made sure we didn’t rush our shots. We looked for mismatches and handled them,” said head coach Kelly Ellison. Offensively, Mikayla Johnson led the Hawks with 20 points, while Akilah Shelton (11) and Adazha Burrell (9) also sparked the offense. Johnson (21) and Shelton (18) and Jenaiya Hardy (15) combined for (54) points in the 59-53 win over Holy Innocents’

Did You Know? Baldwin and Hardaway have both won 24-straight games since falling to Class 7A Norcross