By Gabriel Stovall
One word succinctly summarizes our feelings about the weekend that was in Southern Crescent basketball.
And even that may be an understatement.
While the boys of, ahem, spring, are still waiting for baseball weather to kick in, and area soccer, track, tennis and golf athletes shiver while they perform, the action on the hardwood has been hot and heavy during this season’s state tournament. And this weekend, perhaps, was the most dramatic sampling of the intrigue.
Starting with Forest Park’s monumental win Friday night against Southwest DeKalb — the first in five tries — all the way to a Jonesboro double-header where the sellout crowd packed into Drew High School saw arguably two of the best high school players anywhere on the same court.
Of course most of us know about Jonesboro’s M.J. Walker. But if you’ve never treated yourself to watching St. Pius X’s Asia Durr, you are depriving yourself a treat. Durr, a Louisville signee and two-time gold medalist with the U.S.A. under 17 squad, is hands down the best high school player, girls or boys, I’ve ever seen in person. She could start for most boys teams in the state.
Jonesboro girls lost 65-50 to Durr and her Lions. But they should have nothing to be ashamed of. When you have to face an elite scorer like Durr who happens to be in an unreal postseason zone right now — she’s scored 96 points in the last two games — all you can do is shake your head and applaud her game.
Durr scored 44 points in that win over the Lady Cardinals. At one point she had 23 of her team’s 25 points. The cool thing about Durr, though, is she has the knack of truly making her team better. In addition to her big scoring night, she spent the first part of the third quarter getting her teammates involved.
If there’s a team that can coral her enough to keep her from winning another state title, I’d sure like to be at that game to see it.
And how can we look past the heartbreaker McIntosh experienced. It doesn’t get much more gut wrenching than a one-point loss at home coupled with the loss of Will Washington who left the third quarter with a broken arm all in the same night.
The trio of Washington, Dishon Lowery and Jordan Lyons will be back next season, so definitely pencil in the Chiefs as an early 2015-16 state champion contender.
But big ups to former Riverdale basketball coach Tony Brinson, now with M.L. King, for pulling the 66-65 upset in one of the toughest high school home court environments you’ll find.
And don’t forget about the Dutchtown Lady Bulldogs. What do you do for an encore performance from a 63-57 double overtime win at Effingham? How about beating Miller Grove 52-41 to set up an Elite Eight matchup at Loganville Tuesday.
ELCA advanced as well, after a solid 58-45 win against Fellowship Christian, and Kayla Smith’s 36 points helped make sure Henry County didn’t get the best of Fayette County.
So what does it all mean? Simply this. The Southern Crescent has just five out of 23 teams still alive on the Road to Macon. Only two of those teams — Forest Park and Fayette County girls — will play at home.
Here’s a closer look at the Elite Eight match ups involving Southern Crescent teams, starting at the top with top-ranked Jonesboro.
ELITE EIGHT MATCHUPS
No. 1 Jonesboro (29-1) at No. 2 Johnson-Gainesville (29-0). Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: In what’s already expected to be a hotly contested matchup in front of a raucous, sellout crowd, there’s already been a little drama surrounding where this game would be played. Since both squads are top seeds out of their regions, a Sunday afternoon coin toss decided the game’s venue. Johnson won the toss, but some consternation arose regarding whether or not Georgia State in Atlanta would be the site of the contest. The discussion caused some slight trimmers in Twitter world from both sides, but these two teams will do their talking on the court.
Jonesboro is the defending state champions. They’re athletic and deep. Johnson coach Jeff Steele told the local Gainesville newspaper that the Cardinals were “scary good,” and it would take a monumental effort to beat them. While this may be true, the Knights (29-0) definitely can’t be taken lightly. Johnson boasts a pair of high scoring senior guards in Ty Cockfield (28.6 ppg) and Roderick English (19.2 ppg). Cockfield also dishes out close to five assists per contest. But after that, Andrew Sims is the next biggest scoring threat at 7.1 ppg.
(17.3 ppg), Tracy Hector (11.9 ppg) and sharp shooter Deantre Mack (11.2 ppg). But point guard Austin Donaldson’s length, quickness and court savvy make this team go. Don’t be surprised to see Jonesboro have to fight back from behind a bit in this one. After all, the stakes are high. Johnson is playing for its first ever semifinals appearance.
But the combination of being uber talented and battle tested, as well as determined to repeat, should cause the Cardinals to prevail. Our Pick: Jonesboro 75, Johnson 68.
Salem (22-8) at No. 8 Forest Park (27-4). Tuesday, 6 p.m.: Now that the Lady Panthers have finally solved the three-year riddle that was Southwest DeKalb — SWD won the previous five matches against Forest Park and was responsible for ousting the Panthers from the state tournament the last two years in the semis — the pressure will be on to see if they can take the next step toward another Final Four appearance. To do it, they’ll have to solve Salem’s senior tandem of Ayanna Mitchell (19.3 ppg) and Shay Tarver (15.4 ppg). Corral at least one of these two, and the Panthers could be headed to Fort Valley. Our Pick: Forest Park 56, Salem 45.
Monroe (21-9) at Fayette County (19-10). Tuesday, 6 p.m.: If Fayette County’s Kayla Smith plays like she did at Henry County this past Friday, the Lady Tigers will stand a good chance of reaching its first Final Four since the 2010-11 season when coach John Strickland’s squad defeated Forest Park for the Class AAAA title. Both squads have seemingly peaked at the right time, with Monroe coming into this game having won eight of its last nine, while Fayette has won seven of its last eight. Look for Smith to have another big night in front of the home crowd in a close one. Our Pick: Fayette County 68, Monroe 64.
Dutchtown (16-13) at Loganville (22-7), Tuesday 6 p.m.: Speaking of hot teams, the Lady Bulldogs are finally starting to play the way they look. Watch coach April Tate’s team take the court and you’ll see what looks like a great mixture of backcourt skill and post player power. But Dutchtown has had trouble closing out games this season. But over the last half dozen games that hasn’t been a problem. Dutchtown’s won five of its last six heading into Tuesday, including that dramatic double OT win at Effingham. Loganville is 9-1 at home this year, but Dutchtown won’t be intimidated on the road. The combination of Janessa Murphy and Cierra Lowe in the backcourt and Kamera Harris and Tierra Scott down low should punch the Lady Bulldogs an unlikely ticket to the Final Four. Our Pick: Dutchtown 46, Loganville 40.
ELCA (21-7) at No. 2 Southwest Atlanta Christian (26-3): Sydney Spencer wears No. 1 for the ELCA Lady Chargers, and her play may be the No. 1 factor in determining whether or not ELCA can pull an upset on second-ranked SACA in the Class A quarterfinals. The Lady Warriors, on the other hand, are the quintessential example of a balanced team. All five starters average double figures in scoring, led by seniors Nicole Martin (19.1ppg) and Shakyna Payne (15.5 ppg). Both are also grabbing over 8 boards per game. ELCA is a good team, but the SACA’s balance will be too much for the Chargers to overcome. Our Pick: SACA 67, ELCA 53.