Class A Division 1: Semifinal coverage from Georgia College

Boys, girls championship matchups both feature region rivals

Credit: Adam Krohn

Credit: Adam Krohn

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Galloway Scots are back in the championship after beating the Rabun County Wildcats 60-45 on Friday, setting up a rematch of last year’s championship game against region rivals St. Francis, which beat Athens Christian later in the day.

The No. 2 Scots (19-10), a No. 2 seed from Region 6, took a 20-18 lead with 6:01 left in the first half and never trailed again. The No. 4 Wildcats (24-7), champions of Region 8, stayed within a 5-8 point striking distance most of the second half, but couldn’t break through.

The Scots closed the game by running down the 35-second shot clock before shooting, which led to a crushing 3-pointer by senior Tianna Thompson to make it 50-41 with 4:12 left. Freshman Poloma Diaz-Williamson hit a wide-open jumper as the shot clock expired to make it 56-45 with 27 seconds left.

Thompson finished with a game-high 28 points. Sophomore Taryn Thompson had 14 points, and Diaz-Williamson had nine.

Scots coach Keisha Brown spoke to the team’s effectiveness in closing out the game down the stretch.

“We’ve been working on in-game situations,” Brown said. “A bullet point for us is finishing games, because in the 10 of our losses we’ve let four or five go because we couldn’t close it out. We spread them out. We’ve got drivers, shooters and players who can post. It’s not about scoring all the time. They’re understanding clock awareness, and how many shot clocks are in a game clock, and that’s the beauty of it.”

The Scots will again play St. Francis, which they lost to 71-70 on Jan. 12, and 65-49 in the region championship. In last year’s A Division I final, St. Francis beat the Scots 76-74. That was the Scots’ best finish in program history.

“To return to the title game means everything because the dynamic of our team has totally changed,” Brown said. “People that were on our bench last year are starting for us and having to do things they’re not accustomed to, and Tianna, quite honestly, is 40% of our scoring.”

Now, the first championship in program history is one win away. The championship game is March 9 at the Macon Coliseum, with tip off at 11 a.m.

“It’s about us,” Brown said. “In the past, we’ve kind of let other teams come in and take what we already know we have. When we practice, we focus on who we are because no one can stop us if we are true to who we are. That’s the biggest difference, is staying true and keeping the confidence up within our circle.”

The Wildcats were trying to return to the title game for the first time since being Class 2A runners-up in 2022. They were led by senior Lucy Hood’s 22 points. Senior Ellie Southards had 15.

Paideia boys 56, Savannah 39: The Pythons have reached the championship for the first time in program history after building a 28-17 halftime lead, then holding on in the second half, where the Bluejackets opened on a 7-0 run, then closed the deficit to 35-30 in the fourth quarter.

The Pythons then went on a 17-4 run that began with 4:50 left in the game and ended with a 53-34 lead with 1:01 left, putting the game out of reach. Pythons sophomore Casare Harper scored 17 points, and freshman Tristan Mitchell scored 14.

“It’s all about defense,” said Pythons coach Eddie Johnson, who guided Therrell to a 2A state title in 2019. “Defense wins games, offense just puts people in the stands. I don’t give a damn about offense, or who the high scorer is. I care who gets the most rebounds, the most deflections. It’s been a hard process getting the boys to ignore your offense and focus on defense, because if you can do your job on defense, your defense will turn into offense. I feel like they’re buying in and just the right time.”

With the win, the No. 6 Pythons, a No. 2 seed from Region 6, improved 16-12 and will play their Region 6 rivals Mount Vernon. They’re in the championship despite missing the playoffs last season. The championship is March 9 at the Macon Coliseum, with tipoff scheduled for 1 p.m.

“This is something we’ve been talking about all year,” Johnson said. “It’s on us to put ourselves on the map. Paideia has always been a school that’s been there this whole time, but has never really been known. We just needed to have the right players with the right mindset, and if everybody came together as a team, our goal of reaching the state championship could happen. So, I’m very happy the boys believed in the game plan and our motto all year, and now they get to control the fruits of their labor.”

The Bluejackets (22-9), champions of Region 3, reached the semifinals for the first time since back-to-back runners-up finishes in 2011-2012. They were led by junior Amareion Robinson’s 11 points.

Saint Francis girls 70, Athens Christian 38: The top-ranked Knights (23-7), champions of Region 6, are a win away from back-to-back titles, and the fifth championship in program history. All four of their championships have come under coach Aisha Kennedy, with the first coming in 2013.

The Knights trailed when Athens Academy scored on a layup two seconds into the game following the opening jump ball, but tied the game less than two minutes later, and never trailed again. They opened the fourth quarter leading 44-31, then went on a runs of 13-3 that made it 57-34 with 3:50 left, then closed on a 10-0 run to bring the score to its final margin.

Senior Nya Young led the Knights with 20 points, 6 assists and three steals, followed by senior Sa’Mya Watt (13 points, seven rebounds, two steals), freshman Giaunni Rogers (11 points five rebounds, three steals) and junior Desi Taylor (10 points, four assists).

Kennedy was asked about how the Knights more than doubled its lead in the fourth quarter, and how the team played Friday.

“We’ve been really good defensively,” she said. “When we can guard and be aggressive out front, we turn people over and get layups in transition, and that’s one of our strengths...We’ve been talking a lot about playing as a team, and sharing the ball because we do have a lot of good pieces, and today I thought we played really good, and to the best of their ability.”

Up next, the Knights will play Galloway for the third time this season, looking for a sweep after winning the first two matchups.

“It’ll be a good one,” Kennedy said. “It’s a rematch from last year’s championship game, and a rematch of this year’s region championship. They have a really good team, but I think if we come out and play our game, and stick to what really works for us, it should be entertaining.”

No. 3 Eagles (24-5), a No. 2 seed from Region 8, had never been past the second round before this season’s run. They were led senior Natalie Golf, their only double-digit scorer, who finished with 16 points.

Mount Vernon boys 77, Mount Pisgah 39: For the second season in a row, the Mustangs have advanced the furthest in program history after reaching the semifinals last year. They never trailed their Region 6 rival, and after taking a 13-2 lead with 3:08 left in the first quarter, they led by double digits the rest of the game.

The No. 1 Mustangs, a No. 1 seed, improved to 23-9. They were led by senior Sha’yah Goba, who had 23 points with eight rebounds. Senior Xavier Shegog (nine rebounds) and junior KJ Garris (two steals) each scored 15, and senior Dennis Scott III had 10 points. Sophomore Gabe Alterman had seven assists.

Mustangs coach Tarrik Mabon was asked about the program reaching its first championship in program history following the game.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “God is good. I’m a man of faith, and we’re a program of faith. We know none of this is a mistake, and we give our glory to god. That being said, the young men in our program, over the last 3-4 years, have worked so hard to get to this place, and the guys who started this program with me seven years ago, this falls on their shoulders. What we’re doing now is humility over ego. Everything we do, we do it the right way. We’re just focused on being the best version of ourselves.

With 5:48 remaining, Alterman bounced a pass off the backboard to Goba, who caught it as an alley-opp for the two-handed dunk, making it 65-31. That was the kind of night the Mustangs enjoyed.

The Mustangs were determined to make it out of Milledgeville with a ticket to the title game.

“We’ve been through a lot, man,” Mabon said. “Last year really hurt us, and put a sour taste in our mouth. We lost here at Georgia College to King’s Ridge by five. We felt like we were the better team, and they played better basketball. So, for the last year we’ve just been working on doing things the right way. We dealt with so much sickness and injury, and a whole lot of adversity, but we stayed connected.”

The Mustangs and Paideia played twice this season, with Paideia winning 61-58 on Jan. 23, and the Mustangs winning 66-48 in the region championship.

“The job isn’t done,” Mabon said. “Paideia has great players and a great coach and we know exactly what they’re about. It’s going to be a dogfight, but we’re just blessed to be here.”

Unranked Mount Pisgah’s Cinderella run as the No. 4 seed from Region 6 comes to an end, and they finished 14-18 after reaching the A Division 1 title game last year. Senior O’Neill Connolly was the Patriots’ only double-digit scorer with 10 points.

Sources: MaxPreps, Georgia High School Basketball Project