Archer’s Tatiana Wayne (11) celebrates with a dance while being surrounded by her teammates after defeating Lowndes County 78-67 in the girls Class AAAAAA Semifinals game at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
STATE HOOPS FINALS
Where: Macon Centreplex
Thursday, March 6
3:00pm A Public Girls Mitchell County vs. Randolph-Clay
4:45pm A Public Boys Wilkinson County vs. Turner County
7:00pm AAAA Girls Columbus vs. Redan
8:45pm AAAA Boys Jonesboro vs. Columbia
Friday, March 7
12:00pm AAASP Wheelchair Henry County vs. Houston County
3:00pm AA Girls Kendrick vs. Wesleyan
4:45pm AA Boys Calhoun vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
7:00pm AAAAA Girls Tucker vs. SW DeKalb
8:45pm AAAAA Boys Warner Robins vs. Miller Grove
Saturday, March 8
11:00pm A Private Girls TBA
12:45pm A Private Boys TBA
3:00pm AAA Girls Buford vs. St. Pius
4:45pm AAA Boys Buford vs. Morgan County
7:00pm AAAAAA Girls McEachern vs. Archer
8:45pm AAAAAA Boys Wheeler vs. Tift County
After Saturday’s state semifinal round, all but one of Gwinnett County’s five remaining high school boys and girls basketball teams will be in quite familiar territory in their classification’s championship games this coming weekend in Macon.
Only Archer’s girls, which will take on Cobb County powerhouse McEachern in the Class AAAAAA title game Saturday at the Macon Centreplex, will be in uncharted waters.
But like Gwinnett’s other representatives — both boys and girls teams from Buford, plus Greater Atlanta Chrisitan’s boys and Wesleyan’s girls — the Tigers (29-3), who are making their first state finals appearance in just their fifth year as a program, have high expectations of coming home with the big trophy.
“We’ve come a long way in a short (time),” junior guard Madison Newby said after her 29-point, five-assist performance in Archer’s 78-67 semifinal win over Lowndes last Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. “But we aren’t done yet.”
For the rest of Gwinnett’s state finalists, this year’s title-game appearance are what they have become accustomed to.
That’s even true for Buford’s boys and girls, who will both be back for a shot at a state title after brief absences.
The Wolves girls (30-2), who won three straight Class AA state titles from 2009-11, defeated Pike County 63-46 last Saturday, and will be back in the championship game for the first time since finishing as AA runner-up in 2012 when they take on St. Pius X in this year’s Class AAA title game at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The Buford boys (27-5), meanwhile, will make their first finals appearance since finishing as Class AA runner-up to GAC in 2011 when they take on Morgan County for the AAA title Saturday at 4:45 p.m. after earning their way there with last Saturday’s 92-76 win over Callaway at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
But while they have been visitors to the finals fewer times than the girls, their ultimate goal is no less lofty.
“It comes down to expectations,” Buford boys coach Allen Whitehart said. “The kids expect to compete. I don’t know that they expect to win a state title every year, but they expect to contend every year. That’s what Buford’s about.”
The expectations have become equally high — if not higher — for GAC’s boys and Wesleyan’s girls.
The Spartans (31-0) will not only be playing for a rare perfect season when they take on Calhoun in the Class AA boys title game Friday at 4:45 p.m., they will also be playing four their fourth state title in the last five years.
But head coach Eddie Martin’s team had to fight hard to get there, fighting off a familiar foe in Laney, which has been the Spartans’ semifinal opponent in three times in their current run, for a 66-58 win Saturday at Columbus State University.
“We’ve got all the respect in the world for (Laney),” Martin said. “This is the third time we’ve played them in the Final Four. … Defensively, we did a good job. (Jashawn Brooks) is one of their better shooters. Now, he got some points, but he got them all getting to the rim. He didn’t get them from the perimeter. We took their perimeter game away from them, I thought.”
Of all Gwinnett’s finalists, Wesleyan’s girls (27-3) have the longest championship game resumé, with Friday’s 3 p.m. Class AA clash with undefeated Kendrick marking the 13th time in the last 14 seasons they’ve played for a state title.
But this year’s team might be the biggest overachiever in reaching the finals considering its youth.
While the Wolves did have several veterans contribute to last Saturday’s 68-64 win over Laney in Columbus, it was a precocious freshman class, led by Mikayla Coombs (19 points), Devyn Lowe (10 points) and Riley Casey that played the biggest roles in them rallying from 12 points down in the second half to win.
And having survived several tough games, including three big battles with Region 6-AA and Gwinnett-rival GAC during the season, coach Jan Azar believes the young Wolves have grown up more than enough to handle the pressure of playing to extend Wesleyan’s winning tradition.
“Riley Casey, a freshman, going in there and hitting those two free throws was huge,” Azar said following Saturday’s win. “And (Coombs) did take over. … Mikayla was playing with such confidence. For a freshman to do that was the difference in the game.
“I thought we grew up against GAC (in the Region 6-AA championship game) in that overtime win. Games like that help us in these situations. Playing a schedule like we do and being in close games help us to know what to do. I wouldn’t say we did it exactly as I would’ve hoped at the end, but I thought we did a good job.”