Class 6A blog: Losses by No. 1-ranked teams leave door open for semifinalists

The No. 1-ranked boys and girls basketball teams will be among the missing teams when the Class 6A semifinals are played Saturday in Carrollton.

Wheeler, the top-ranked boys team and defending state champion, was upset on the road by Grovetown 82-76 in overtime Tuesday night in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats were bidding for their third consecutive state championship and ninth overall.

River Ridge, the No. 1 girls team, lost on the road in the quarterfinals to No. 2 Lovejoy 71-59. The loss broke the Knights’ 21-game winning streak and ended their bid for a second consecutive semifinal appearance.

The semifinals will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the University of West Georgia. The winners will meet in the finals at 5:30 p.m. (girls) and 7:30 p.m. (boys) on March 11 at the Macon Coliseum, which is hosting the championship games in all classifications over four days next week.

Here’s a look at the four 6A semifinals:

Girls

*Rockdale County vs. Lovejoy (2 p.m.): Rockdale County, the only remaining unranked girls team in Class 6A, is making its first appearance in the semifinals since its 1984 championship season. The Bulldogs (21-7) advanced with a 64-56 victory over No. 5 Brunswick. Rockdale trailed by 10 points at halftime but outscored the Pirates 27-6 in the third quarter to seize control. Danielle Carnegie, the Region 3 player of the year, averages 20.7 points, seven rebounds, five assists and 3.6 steals. No. 2 Lovejoy (26-3) won a state championship in 2018 and is in the semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons. The Wildcats have steamrolled through 17 consecutive victories, with only five games during that streak decided by fewer than 24 points. Sophomore Bryanna Preston, the Region 4 player of the year, scored 19 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter of the 12-point quarterfinal victory over River Ridge.

*Kell vs. Sequoyah (6 p.m.): Third-ranked Kell (27-2) suffered losses on consecutive nights to Sprayberry (82-65) and Holy Innocents’ (51-43) in early January but has since won 15 consecutive games. Kell, a state runner-up in 2020, is led by junior guard Crystal Henderson, who had 20 points, four assists and three rebounds in a 67-55 quarterfinal victory over No. 10 Rome. Amaya Moss, Jada Peterson and Jada Green combined for 42 points. All four were all-region picks. No. 7 Sequoyah (23-7) is in the semifinals for just the second time since it won its second championship in three years in 1996. Junior guard Elle Blatchford has averaged 24.3 points in three playoff games, including 26 in a 53-44 quarterfinal victory over Bradwell Institute. All of Sequoyah’s losses this season have come against 7A No. 5 Cherokee (two), River Ridge (three), A Private No. 4 Hebron Christian and Alabama finalist Hoover.

Boys

*Buford vs. Sequoyah (4 p.m.): Fourth-ranked Buford (24-6) was relegated to a No. 2 seed when it lost to Shiloh in the Region 8 championship game but has worked its way through the playoffs with victories over Pope, Statesboro and Carrollton by an average of 10 points. The Wolves are seeking their third state title in six seasons. London Williams and Alahn Sumler scored 16 points each in a 62-54 victory over Carrollton in the quarterfinals. Sequoyah is the only 6A school that put both its boys and girls teams in the semifinals. It’s the first appearance in the final four for the Chiefs’ boys, who are ranked No. 7. Sequoyah (25-6) advanced with a 71-70 victory against Kell, the 2021 runner-up. Kyle Keener, an all-Region 7 first-team selection, made two free throws with nine seconds left for the lead, and Kell’s last-second shot came up short. Preston Parker scored 28 points, and Dylan Wolle added 20.

*Grovetown vs. Hughes (8 p.m.): Grovetown, which opened in 2009, had won just one playoff game in its history before this year’s run to the semifinals, which included the overtime upset of top-ranked Wheeler. The eighth-ranked Warriors (27-3) are led by Region 3 player of the of year Frankquon Sherman, who averages 16.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. VaShon Ferguson (12.8) and Markel Freeman (11.0) also average double-figure scoring. All three are juniors. Hughes (19-12), a state champion in 2017 and 2018, is the only remaining unranked boys team in the 6A field. The Panthers have beaten Effingham County, Osborne and River Ridge by a total of 13 points. Grovetown will be Hughes’ first opponent in the tournament that won a region championship. Against River Ridge, Randy Latham gave the Panthers a two-point lead in the final minute, and the Knights missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.