Class 6A: Semifinal coverage from West Georgia

Lovejoy, River Ridge girls, Lee County, Alexander boys advance to finals
Lee County players celebrate their 49-48 victory over Lanier in the Class 6A basketball semifinals at the University of West Georgia on March 4, 2023.

Credit: Chip Saye

Credit: Chip Saye

Lee County players celebrate their 49-48 victory over Lanier in the Class 6A basketball semifinals at the University of West Georgia on March 4, 2023.


Lovejoy 73, Brunswick 62

Bryanna Preston and La’Nya Foster combined for 56 points to lead the Lovejoy girls basketball team back to the Class 6A championship game for the fourth time in six seasons.

Preston, a junior, scored just three points in the first quarter but finished with 31 in a 73-62 victory over Brunswick in the semifinals Saturday at the University of West Georgia. Foster, a senior, finished with 25. Both have won region player of the year awards in their careers, including Foster this season.

“They did what they’re supposed to do,” Lovejoy coach Cedric King said. “If they want to win and continue on to the last game, that’s what we tell them, do what you’re supposed to do.”

Third-ranked Lovejoy (26-5) will seek its third state title in six years when it faces No. 1 River Ridge in the championship game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Coliseum.

Foster scored 13 of her team’s first 20 points as the Wildcats built a 20-14 lead in the first seven minutes. Preston took over from there, hitting a 3-pointer with four seconds to play in the first quarter and then scoring 15 of Lovejoy’s 17 second-quarter points (Foster had the other two). Preston’s short jumper with one second left in the half gave Lovejoy a 40-29 lead.

The Wildcats increased the lead to 20 points in the third quarter, but Brunswick got a five-point possession near the end of the period when a brief scuffle led to the ejection of Lovejoy’s Jahilya McDonald and left the Wildcats with just seven available players.

However, fifth-ranked Brunswick (27-4) never got closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Shamya Flanders, the Region 2 player of the year, scored 23 points and Shania Jones had 17 points to lead Brunswick. India McIntosh added 10 points for Lovejoy.

Lovejoy was the only girls team in any classification to reach the semifinals that wasn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. The Wildcats finished the regular season tied for first place in Region 3, one of the state’s toughest regions, but lost to Rockdale County in the semifinals of the region tournament and ended up as a No. 3 seed for the state playoffs.

River Ridge 60, Hughes 46

The top-ranked River Ridge girls used an 18-4 run to take control early and coasted to a 60-46 victory over No. 6 Hughes.

The win puts River Ridge in the championship game for the first time in program history. The Knights will face Lovejoy, which knocked them out in the quarterfinals last season en route to the Class 6A championship.

River Ridge is 26-5 overall but has not lost to a Georgia opponent this season. Hughes, appearing in the semifinals for the third time in its history but seeking its first trip to the finals, finished the season 25-5.

Hughes led 4-2 on a basket by Kyra Green with 5:27 remaining in the first quarter, but the Panthers would not make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By the time they made their next one, a jumper in the lane by McKayla Taylor with 4:16 remaining in the second quarter, River Ridge had built a 20-6 lead.

River Ridge led 30-12 at halftime and 46-27 at the end of the third quarter. Hughes got within 15 points early in the fourth, but River Ridge answered with a 10-3 run to move comfortably in front. Sophia Pearl scored all 10 of the Knight’s points in that run. Hughes closed the gap in the final minutes against the Knights’ reserves.

Pearl led River Ridge with 20 points. Kayla Cleaveland scored 11, Mataya Gayla had 10 and Avery Gaw scored nine points on three 3-pointers.

“We’ve got five really special players, but the thing is, every day in practice the rest of the girls have to go against those five girls,” River Ridge coach Jason Taylor said. “The reason our five are able to get to that level is because of the way the rest of our girls are pushing them. It just works for us. I don’t know what to say, it just makes us better.”

Taylor led Hughes with 12 points, and Green had 10.


Lee County 49, Lanier 48

Lee County, the only unranked Class 6A boys team to make it to the semifinals, is now one of only two teams left standing.

DJ Taylor made two free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining to give the Trojans a 49-48 semifinal victory over No. 5 Lanier. Lee County (28-3) will be making its first appearance in a state championship game since winning the Class 3A title in 1985. The Trojans will face top-ranked Alexander in the final at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Coliseum.

Taylor’s free throws saved the Trojans, who led by nine points entering the fourth quarter but went almost seven minutes without a basket as Lanier (26-5) came back to take a 48-45 lead on a three-point play by Osmar Garcia with 52.7 seconds remaining.

Lee County cut the lead to one on a layup by Ousmane Kromah with 41 seconds left. The Trojans got the ball back after Lanier missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting the stage for Taylor’s free throws. Lanier’s Tahai Morgan, who scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Lanier took an early 7-0 lead behind four points from Jayce Nathaniel and a 3-pointer by Andrew Knight, but Lee County pulled even at 13-13 on a layup by Josiah Parker with about a minute to play in the first quarter. The Trojans took their first lead on another inside basket by Parker, who scored 12 first-half points, that made it 19-18. Lee County led 28-24 at halftime.

Parker led the Trojans with 16 points, and Harrison Skinner scored nine points on three 3-pointers. Nathaniel led Lanier with 16, and Garcia added 13.

Alexander 56, Etowah 53

Top-ranked Alexander overcame a seven-point deficit with a 14-4 run in the final 3:29 and defeated No. 6 Etowah 56-53 to advance to the championship game for the first time in program history.

Alexander (26-5), which will face Lee County next Friday, lost in its only other semifinal appearance in 2014. Etowah (22-9) was playing in the semifinals for the first time.

Alexander trailed 49-42 after a 3-pointer by Etowah’s Brandon Rechsteiner with 4:18 remaining, but Marvin McGhee started the run by scoring in the lane to cut the lead to 49-44 with 3:29 left. After a basket by Etowah’s Aiden Weaver, McGhee made a 3-pointer and Milan Kennedy made a jumper to get the Cougars within 51-49 with 2:04 left.

Etowah pushed the lead back to four on two free throws by DC Kelly-Godinez with 1:52 left, but Alexander’s Braeden Lue scored the next five points, including a three-point play that gave the Cougars a 54-53 lead with 35 seconds to play. McGhee’s dunk with 2.8 seconds left made it 56-53, and Etowah missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Neither team had led by more than five points until Etowah opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run that stretched a 38-37 lead into a nine-point advantage. Dimitri Angelakos and Rechsteiner had 3-pointers for six of the eight points. A 3-pointer by Alexander’s Gregory Dunson 18 seconds later kept the Cougars within reach and ignited a 19-7 run over the final six minutes.

Lue finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, and McGhee had 11 points.

Rechsteiner led Etowah with 15 points, followed by Dimitri Angelakos with 13 and Weaver with 10.