Championship Preview: Girls Class A-Private

Photo by Ty Freeman


29-0, Region 5

Holy Innocents’ entered the state tournament as the No. 2 team in the state (although it is the highest-ranked team remaining with St. Francis having bowed out to Southwest Atlanta Christian), but it has played like a No. 1 team all season long. The Golden Bears are undefeated heading into their championship tilt and they have compiled that unblemished mark without any trouble.

Their most competitive contest of the 2013-14 campaign has been a 57-50 decision at Darlington. Every other victory has come by a double-digit margin, including a much more convincing 46-20 rout of Darlington in Monday’s semifinals. Holy Innocents’ has won its three state playoff contests by an average of 33.7 points.

A big reason for the Golden Bears’ dominance is freshman Khayla Pointer, a 5-foot-8 point guard. Pointer is the engine that makes her squad go on both ends of the floor. She can score, distribute the ball in dynamite fashion and she pesters opposing teams with her defensive tenacity. A young but athletic backcourt also features freshman Shai Blanding and sophomores Sydney Long and Chelsea Zoller. It is complimented perfectly by the post presences of sisters Erika and Lexii Cassell. Lexii, a Murray State signee, provides experience as the lone senior on the roster. The Golden Bears like to run and use their athleticism to parlay turnovers into fast-break points, but the Cassells have the potential to take over on offense in half-court sets.

Holy Innocents’ is bidding for its first state championship since 1999 and last season may have acted as a stepping stone to this moment. Following first-round exits from 2009 to 2012, the Golden Bears made a run to the 2013 semifinals before falling to Southwest Atlanta Christian by 25 points, 73-48. With Pointer now on board, though, erasing all of that 25-point margin and seizing revenge would not be an entirely surprising development.




26-5, Region 6

Southwest Atlanta Christian is through to its second consecutive Class A-Private state title game and it is bidding for its first championship since 2006. The Warriors lost to St. Francis in last year’s final and by 17 points in this year’s region final on Feb. 17, but they gained a measure of revenge in Monday’s semis with a 66-51 victory. Senior guard Marquita Daniels scored 22 points in the winning effort, while freshman guard Tiamya Butler added 18 points and senior forward Amy Griffin contributed 17 points.

Beating Southwest Atlanta Christian twice in the same season is, of course, a taxing proposition. After all, getting the best of the team just once is difficult enough. The Warriors’ only losses are to St. Francis (which was the second-ranked team in Class A Private), to Norcross and Westlake of Class AAAAAA and to Class AAAAA finalist Southwest DeKalb. Playing their best basketball when it matters most, they have won 18 of their past 19 games.

With only seven players and a primary rotation that features just six, stamina can be a problem for the Warriors. In the semifinals against St. Francis, for example, they led by 13 points at halftime but squandered all of that advantage and had to recover from a deficit in the last three minutes.

The good news, though, is that Southwest Atlanta Christian will have had four full days off when it takes the court on Saturday. Even better news is that the players whom head coach Jackie Cowan does have at her disposal are impressive. The Warriors cannot run as much as they might like due to their short bench, but they don’t have to. They can work a stellar inside-outside game in half-court sets with post players Griffin, a 6-foot-1 forward, and Dominique Banks, a 6-foot-3 freshman center, demanding attention from the defense down low.

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