Class 6A blog: Preview of Friday’s state championship games

Lovejoy players return to the court after a timeout during their 71-56 victory over Rockdale County in the Class 6A girls semifinals Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the University of West Georgia.

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Lovejoy players return to the court after a timeout during their 71-56 victory over Rockdale County in the Class 6A girls semifinals Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the University of West Georgia.

If last week’s semifinals were any indication, the Class 6A boys and girls basketball season will come to an exciting conclusion Friday night when the champions are crowned at the Macon Coliseum.

Second-ranked Lovejoy will face No. 7 Sequoyah in the girls final at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys final between No. 4 Buford and No. 8 Grovetown at 7:30.

The four semifinal winners Saturday at West Georgia outscored their opponents by an average of 5.75 points, and only one game, the Lovejoy girls’ 71-56 victory over Rockdale County, was decided by more than five points.

Buford’s boys survived the closest game in the semifinals, holding off Sequoyah 73-72. Buford trailed by as many as nine points in the first half and still faced a four-point deficit midway through the third quarter, but Alahn Sumler, Jaylon Taylor and Malachi Brown took control from there, scoring the Wolves’ final 27 points.

Taylor blocked a potential game-tying shot in the final 15 seconds, and Brown made two free throws with 9.2 seconds left to secure the victory. Brown finished with a team-high 20 points.

“It feels great,” Buford coach Benjie Wood said after the victory. “Our motto is 1-0 … 1-0 every possession, 1-0 for games. So we’re 1-0 today. I’m going to enjoy this. I told the kids to take tomorrow off, be kids, go hang out, and we’ll have them ready and we’ll get back to work on Monday.”

Buford (25-6) is seeking its third state championship (2017, 2019). The Wolves were the regular-season champions in Region 8 but finished as a No. 2 seed for the state tournament after losing to Shiloh in the region tournament final. Buford has beaten Pope (60-49), No. 10 Statesboro (62-51) and Carrollton (62-54) in the playoffs.

Grovetown (28-3), seeking its first state championship, avenged a regular-season loss to Hughes with a 68-63 victory in the semifinals. Hughes overcame a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter and led 63-62 with less than two minutes left, but Grovetown scored the final six points of the game, including two free throws by Vashon Ferguson with 1.9 seconds remaining after Hughes missed a game-tying 3-pointer.

Frankquon Sherman, the Region 3 player of the year, led the Warriors with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

“There’s one more. I don’t get too high or too low, but I’m happy for these guys,” Grovetown coach Darren Douglas told Will Cheney of the Augusta Chronicle. “But I know it’s not over with until next Friday.”

Grovetown, the No. 1 seed from Region 3, pulled off the biggest victory of the tournament when it knocked off favorite Wheeler 82-76 in overtime in the quarterfinals. Wheeler was the No. 1-ranked team and seeking its third consecutive state championship. The Warriors also defeated Northside-Warner Robins (93-37) in the first round and No. 9 Alexander (78-54) in the second.

Lovejoy’s girls came into the tournament as the likely favorite despite being ranked No. 2 behind River Ridge, and the Wildcats made that even clearer after rolling past the Knights 71-59 in the quarterfinals.’

Lovejoy (27-3), the Region 4 champion, has won 18 consecutive games overall and outscored playoff opponents Glynn Academy, No. 9 Sprayberry, River Ridge and Rockdale County by an average of 23 points. The Wildcats are in the finals for the third time in five seasons and seeking their second championship (2018).

Bryanna Preston, the Region 4 player of the year, scored 30 points in the Wildcats’ victory over Rockdale County in the semifinals. Lovejoy led 39-23 at halftime, and Rockdale County never got closer than 11 points in the second half.

Lovejoy will be facing a Sequoyah team that finished second behind River Ridge in Region 7 and lost to the Knights three times by an average of nine points, although it was just a two-point loss in the region tournament final.

The Chiefs (24-7) beat third-ranked Kell 40-38 in the semifinals despite shooting just 27.5% from the field (Kell shot 27.3%). Sequoyah trailed 27-18 midway through the third quarter, but Elle Blatchford scored 12 of her game-high 15 points in the second half to lead the comeback.

Sequoyah defeated East Paulding (56-35), Houston County (49-39) and Bradwell Institute (53-44) in the earlier rounds. The Chiefs are making their first appearance in the championship game since winning state titles in 1994 and 1996.

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