Class 5A blog: A look at the Final Four matchups

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Despite losing one of the nation’s best players, the Forest Park girls are back in the Final Four, one win away from its third consecutive appearance in the title game. That’s why coach Steven Cole takes pride in saying his Panthers are built to be a long-term successful program.

“We are a program. We are not a team,” Cole said after a 52-40 win over Loganville in the third round. “We’re a program and that’s why we continue to make it to the Final Four. You know, these girls worked hard all summer and they deserve the opportunity to play.”

The graduation of McDonald’s All-American Sonia Feagin, now contributing at No. 1-ranked South Carolina, would have decimated many programs. Forest Park has barely missed a beat. And while the Panthers are young, they’ve got a couple of seniors in the lineup that often includes two sophomores and a freshman.

Cole said the growth of the team was hampered by a COVID attack in January, cost them four games and prevented them from playing some of the good out-of-town teams against which they’ve been tested in previous years.

A look at the Final Four matchups, all to be played Saturday at Fort Valley State University.

Girls

Forest Park vs. New Manchester, 2 p.m.: No. 2 Forest Park (21-6) is led by sharp-shooting sophomore Yasmine Allen and athletic junior Jayda Brown – both scored 14 in the win over Loganville. Michayla Daivs and Janiya Simmons are the senior starters. New Manchester (19-9) is led by Region 6 Player of the Year Kharyssa Richardson, who averages 19 points and 9.2 rebounds. All-region pick India Johnson averages 9.9 points.

Woodward Academy vs. Warner Robins, 6 p.m.: This game features two of the hottest teams in the state. Defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Woodward Academy (27-2) has won 16 straight games and beat Maynard Jackson in the third round to avenge its only loss to a Georgia team. The War Eagles are led by Region 3 Player of the Year Sydney Bowles, a University of Georgia signee who averages 21 points, seven rebounds and 4.6 assists. All-region pick Sara Lewis averages 14 points and 4.1 rebounds. No. 4 Warner Robins (25-5) has won 17 in a row. The Demons are led by Jada Morgan and Tasia Agee, who shared Region 1 Player of the Year honors. Neveah Mack and Tori Davis also made the all-region team. They knocked off No. 4 Greenbrier in the second round.

Boys

Jonesboro vs. Eagle’s Landing, 4 p.m. No. 5 Jonesboro (21-8) defeated second-ranked St. Pius and then erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Loganville in a dramatic third-round win. The Cardinals are led by Devon Rainey (17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists), Kaymen Brown (16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Malcolm Simmons (9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds). No. 1 Eagle’s Landing (26-3), the defending state champion, is riding a 13-game winning streak. The Eagles are led by Region 4 Player of the Year A.J. Barnes and all-region selections David Thomas and Jordan Fordyce. Eagle’s Landing struggled for a half in its third-round game with Hiram, trailed by 12 in the third quarter and won by 16.

Tri-Cities vs. Calhoun, 8 p.m.: No. 3 Tri-Cities has won 10 straight games and swept through the Region 3 tournament. Coach Omari Forts’ Bulldogs lost in the championship game last year, reached the Final Four in 2020 and won it all in 2019. Tri-Cities is led by Region 3 Player of the Year Simeon Cottle, one of the state’s top scorers at 23.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Kory Mincy (17.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists) was first-team all-region, too. Calhoun (22-6) is led by Dylan Faulkner and Peyton Law, the co-Players of the Year in Region 7. Faulkner averages 21.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks and Law averages 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

The girls championship game will be played March 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Macon Coliseum. The boys championship game will follow at 7:30 p.m.