By Gabriel Stovall
And then there were four.
The four-county Southern Crescent area began the state basketball tournament with 23 schools, and that number has been whittled down to four — three girls squads and the defending boys Class AAAA champion Jonesboro Cardinals.
Jonesboro and the Fayette County Lady Tigers will be playing their semifinal match ups at West Georgia University in Carrollton, while Forest Park and Dutchtown will be duking it out against Stephenson and Mays, respectively, in Fort Valley University’s gymnasium.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the action today:
FORT VALLEY SEMIS:
WHO: No. 8 Forest Park (28-4) vs. No. 4 Stephenson (26-5)
WHEN: Saturday at 3 p.m.
SCOUTING REPORT: At least one person on the Forest Park squad is familiar with the Stephenson Lady Jaguars. That person would be senior guard Kerry Watson. Watson transferred from Stephenson to Forest Park for the 2014-15 basketball season and has become an integral part of coach Steve Cole’s backcourt, especially with the midseason injury of high-scoring guard Christal Williams. But Cole is quick to tell you that his is not a one-player show. Watson, Tamecia Blue and Alexis High have all helped to fill the 17.5 points-per-game hole that Williams left.
But 6-foot-1 center Kanisha Tharpe has been playing big the last couple of games as well. They’ll need that complete team effort to stymie Stephenson who has an effective transfer of their own in Davion Wingate, a transfer from Southwest DeKalb, and daughter of former NBA player David Wingate. She’s averaging a little over 17 a game for Stephenson.
WHO: Dutchtown (18-13) vs. No. 2 Mays (26-2)
WHEN: Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Lady Bulldogs get, hands down, the toughest draw of Southern Crescent teams in facing off against No. 2 Mays, which has to be the championship favorite based on the teams remaining. Coach April Tate’s squad has found its groove lately, winning seven of its last eight games. Both teams have size in the post and guards with ample skill. But the Mays backcourt combination of 5-foot-5 guards Kennya Sims and Kamiyah Street along with 6-foot-5 senior Kennedy Rushin, a Louisiana Tech signee, will present a challenge Dutchtown hasn’t seen yet this season. The Lady Raiders’ average margin of victory in their three playoff games against Alexander, Woodland-Stockbridge and Gainesville has been 23.3 points. If both Dutchtown and Forest Park win, it would set up an all-Southern Crescent Class AAAAA championship game.
WEST GEORGIA SEMIS:
WHO: Fayette County (20-10) vs. Buford (28-3)
WHEN: Saturday at 3 p.m.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Lady Tigers are back into the Final Four for the first time since winning the state championship back in the 2010-11 season. They’ll face a talented Buford squad that hasn’t lost since December 29 when the Wolves dropped a 35-22 decision to Southeast Raleigh in Raliegh, NC. Kayla Smith has been her usual high scoring self for Fayette County throughout the postseason, but coach John Strickland’s team will have to find a way to corral Buford’s Camille Anderson. The North Carolina State signee had 33 points and nailed six 3-pointers in Buford’s quarterfinals win over a hot St. Pius X team.
WHO: No. 1 Jonesboro (30-1) vs. Liberty County (24-4)
WHEN: Saturday at 4:45 p.m.
SCOUTING REPORT: If you watched the defending Class AAAA champion Cardinals get past Johnson-Gainesville this past Thursday, you may think that the it should be smooth sailing toward a second straight title. But Liberty County is a young, though athletic squad with a pair of sophomore scorers in Devion Mitchell (19 ppg) and Richard Lecounte (18.9 ppg). Jonesboro senior Tracy Hector seems to be playing his best ball, despite nursing an ankle injury. The Cardinals are, without a doubt, the deepest team in Class AAAA, though, so even with injuries to a top player, Jonesboro should have enough firepower to get past the Panthers from Hinesville.