By James Butler
The Sandy Creek, Jonesboro, and McIntosh boys teams and the Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy girls team are the remaining Southern Crescent basketball teams in the state tournament. With two more wins each club will be playing for a state title, with Sandy Creek and Jonesboro facing each other for the Class 4A championship. Here is a look at each team’s quarterfinal matchup as well the clearest path each club has to the state title game.
Remaining Boys Teams
Class 4A – Thursday vs. Lithonia 4:45 p.m. at Fort Valley State
Keys to Victory: The Patriots got balanced-scoring in their 85-71 victory over Bainbridge in the second round and a similar effort might be needed to get by Lithonia. Elias Harden scored 20 points, Christian Turner 19, Evan Jester 16, Javon Jackson 14, and Keith Heard II 11 in the second round win. Lithonia has played some of the best defense in the state, so Sandy Creek may have to get points anyway they can, and having multiple scorers certainly will help. Also helping the Patriots is that they have good rebounders at multiple positions on the floor, which has been a strength of Lithonia as well.
Preferred Semifinal Opponent: Monroe
If Sandy Creek can defeat Lithonia, a matchup with Monroe probably would be more favorable than meeting Liberty County – though both are quality teams. Up-tempo Liberty County features the high-scoring duo of Davion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte, while Monroe prides itself more on defense. Liberty County’s style might be more engaging, but the Panthers are also more dangerous.
Class 4A- Friday vs. St. Pius X 8:15 p.m. at Forty Valley State
Keys to Victory: Jonesboro received a scare in its 51-50 second-round victory over Carrollton. The Trojans, who Jonesboro defeated in last year’s Class 4A Title Game, played the type of game St. Pius X will have to play to beat the Cardinals. Thus, if Jonesboro can use its defense to kick-start its transition offense, St. Pius X might not be able to keep up with the Cardinals.
Preferred Semifinal Opponent: Westover
Westover was the surprise No. 1 seed from Region 1 and is led by sneaky-good senior point guard Allec Williams. Senior-led Region 6 champion Grady also has a backcourt star in Avi Toomer, but the Grey Knights have had the more impressive season with wins over aforementioned quarterfinal participants Lithonia and Sandy Creek.
Class 5A – Friday vs. Riverwood 8:15 p.m. at Columbus State
Keys to Victory: McIntosh once again showed its ability to be explosive when Will Washington scored (pictured) 31 points and Jordan Lyons went for 24 in a second round victory over Gainesville. The Chiefs also showed their determination as they overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to win in the final seconds 87-84. Offense is always is a key for McIntosh, but how they defend a versatile Riverwood offense will probably be the most important factor in the game. The one-loss Raiders have 6-foot-8 Kohl Roberts on the inside, surrounded by lethal shooters like 6-foot-2 junior Elijah Jenkins on the outside. It would help if McIntosh eliminated one of those sources of points for Riverwood.
Preferred Semifinal Opponent: South Paulding
Considering South Paulding’s quarterfinal opponent is state No. 1 Miller Grove, it is safe to say that the Spartans would be the team most teams would rather play. However, it is not surprising for a team with the capabilities McIntosh has to want to play the best and face the Wolverines. Still, since this part of the preview is about which opponent would be most beatable, South Paulding rightly gets the nod.
ELCA Last Girls Team Standing
Class A Private – Friday vs. Calvary Day 6:30 p.m. at Kennesaw State
Keys to Victory: The last of the girls team to begin play in the state tournament, ELCA went on the road to defeat a 20-win Our Lady of Mercy team 52-39 last Friday. Our lady of Mercy, who finished No. 7 in the Class A Girls Power Rankings, defeated ELCA 41-32 in a Region 5 matchup in January. Ranked No. 10 in the power rankings, the Lady Chargers now face a Calvary Day team ranked second. Calvary Day’s only loss on the season was a three-point defeat to fellow Savannah school Johnson, who made the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Lady Cavaliers are a team who can bully their opponents on the boards and with their defense, so ELCA will have to match their intensity and effort to be in position to get the win.
Preferred Semifinal Opponent: Tattnall Square Academy
Tattnall Square plays Region 5 champion Greenforest in the quarterfinal opposite ELCA. Greenforest has defeated ELCA twice, 42-28 and 42-30, in the last two weeks so a rematch with a Tattnall Square team they lost 54-51 to on the road in December might be the Lady Chargers’ best path to the state championship game.