Class 6A: Semifinal coverage from West Georgia

Lovejoy coach Cedric King talks to his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 71-56 victory over Rockdale County in the Class 6A girls basketball semifinals on Saturday, March 5, at the University of West Georgia.

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Lovejoy coach Cedric King talks to his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 71-56 victory over Rockdale County in the Class 6A girls basketball semifinals on Saturday, March 5, at the University of West Georgia.

Buford, Grovetown boys, Lovejoy, Sequoyah girls advance to finals

BOYS

Buford 73, Sequoyah 72

The Buford boys basketball team had trailed since early in the first quarter and still faced a four-point deficit with less than four minutes remaining in the third.

That’s when Alahn Sumler, Jaylon Taylor and Malachi Brown took over.

They combined to score their team’s final 27 points, and the Wolves held off Sequoyah in the final minute for a 73-72 victory in the Class 6A semifinals Saturday at the University of West Georgia.

“Those are our guys,” Buford coach Benjie Wood said. “What I’m most proud of with our guys is that when every bit of adversity hits us, they just stick together. They kept saying, ‘Stay together, stay together,’ and that’s a tribute to their leadership. And you know what? We had to make plays, and we made plays.”

Fourth-ranked Buford (25-6) will be seeking its third championship in six seasons when it plays in the state finals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Coliseum.

Sequoyah, the No. 1 seed from Region 7, was making its first appearance in the semifinals. The seventh-ranked Chiefs finished the season 25-7.

Sequoyah led 50-46 after two free throws by Kyle Keener with 3:42 remaining in the third quarter. Taylor answered with a putback to ignite a 20-8 run lead that gave the Wolves a 66-58 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the game.

Two 3-pointers by Preston Parker and another by Dylan Wolle helped keep Sequoyah in the game. The Chiefs closed the gap to 71-69 with 22 seconds left and had a chance to tie it on their next possession, but Taylor blocked a shot by Fisher Mitchell with 11 seconds remaining and the Wolves got possession.

Brown put the game away when he made two free throws for a 73-69 lead with nine seconds left.

Brown led Buford with 20 points, and Sumler had 19. Taylor finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Parker, Wolle and Mitchell had big games for Sequoyah. Wolle was 10-for-16 from the field and scored a game-high 25 points, and Parker had 20 points and five rebounds. Fisher had 15 points and eight rebounds and made three 3-pointers in the first quarter.

The Chiefs, who have been extremely dangerous from 3-point range this season, made 10 of 21 from behind the arc.

“Boy, they can shoot it,” Wood said of Sequoyah. “That’s what they do. They’re a great basketball team. We just beat a heck of a basketball team, and I’m just really proud of my kids.”

Grovetown 68, Hughes 63

Grovetown survived a potential game-tying 3-point attempt by Hughes with less than five seconds to play and escaped with a 68-63 victory after surrendering what had been a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Eighth-ranked Grovetown (28-3) will make its first appearance in a state championship game next week. The Warriors are the regular-season and tournament champions from Region 3.

Hughes (19-13), the only unranked 6A boys team to reach the semifinals, fell short in its bid to return to the finals for the first time since winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.

Grovetown took a 58-42 lead on a dunk by Vashon Ferguson with about seven minutes remaining, but Hughes’ Jelani Thurmon scored eight points in a 15-2 run that had the Panthers within 60-57 with three minutes left. Frankquon Sherman made two free throws for a 62-57 lead with 2:54 remaining, but Hughes answered with six consecutive points to go up 63-62, its first lead since early in the first quarter.

Two free throws by Derrion Reid and a jump shot by Frankquon Sherman put Grovetown back in front 66-63 in the final minute. After Hughes missed two free throws and Grovetown missed one in the final 20 seconds, Hughes missed a 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game. Grovetown rebounded, and Markel Freeman made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to put the game away.

Sherman, the Region 3 player of the year, led all scorers with 23 points and had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Ferguson added 15 points, and Freeman had 14.

Randy Latham led Hughes with 17 points, and Tim James scored 11. Thurmon finished with 11 points, 10 in the second half, and 14 rebounds.

GIRLS

Lovejoy 71, Rockdale County 56

Bryanna Preston scored four of her game-high 30 points in an 11-0 game-opening run, and second-ranked Lovejoy cruised to a 71-56 victory over Rockdale County.

The victory put Lovejoy (27-3) in the championship game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Coliseum. The Wildcats, who will make their third appearance in the finals in five seasons, won the Class 6A title in 2018.

Lovejoy has won 18 consecutive games and hasn’t lost to a Georgia opponent since a 72-65 loss to Class 5A No. 1 Woodward Academy on Nov. 27 in the second game of the regular season.

Rockdale County, the No. 2 seed from Region 3, was the only unranked 6A girls team to reach the semifinals. The Bulldogs finished the season 21-8.

Preston made back-to-back baskets and La’Nya Foster followed with a 3-pointer for an 11-0 lead with 4:25 remaining in the first quarter. Rockdale County got within five points midway through the second quarter, but the Wildcats pushed the lead to 16 by halftime and 18 after three quarters. Rockdale got no closer than 11 points in the fourth.

Preston, the Region 4 player of the year, had 12 fourth-quarter points as the Wildcats put the game away. Foster and Keyra Peterson finished with 13 points each, and Layla Hood had five points and 12 rebounds.

Region 3 player of the year Danielle Carnegie had 26 points and seven rebounds to lead Rockdale County. Lia Edwards had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Sequoyah 40, Kell 38

Elle Blatchford’s two free throws with 2:22 remaining gave Sequoyah its first lead since the second quarter, and she made two more with 12.5 seconds left to secure a 40-38 victory over Kell.

Blatchford finished with a game-high 15 points for seventh-ranked Sequoyah (24-7), which advanced to the final for the first time since its 1996 team won the state championship. Kell (27-3), ranked No. 3, came up short in its bid to reach the championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Both teams struggled from the field. Sequoyah didn’t score until a free throw by Milanni Abdus-Salaam with 4:52 remaining in the first quarter and got its first field goal 35 seconds later on a jumper by Susanna Rogers. The Chiefs made 12 of 44 field-goal attempts (27.3%) for the game.

Kell’s first points came on a 3-pointer by Jada Peterson with 3:56 left in the opening period. The Longhorns shot just 27.5% from the field. Crystal Henderson, Kell’s leading scorer and a two-time first-team all-state selection, was 3-for-13 from the field and finished with nine points.

Jamiah Gregory, who led Kell with 11 points, gave Kell a seven-point lead with a 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter. The lead reached nine points on a layup by Gregory midway through the third, but Blatchford had seven points in a 9-0 Sequoyah run that tied the game at 27-27. Neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way.

Abdus-Salaam’s layup gave Sequoyah the lead for good at 37-36. The Chiefs missed four of seven free-throw attempts in the final 19 seconds but got rebounds on two of the misses to keep Kell from having a realistic chance at a game-tying shot.

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