GHSA basketball semifinal coverage from around the state on Saturday

Seth Ellerbee

There are five host sites for the GHSA basketball semifinals as the final state championship contenders are decided Saturday.

Follow the links to see coverage from Georgia State (7A), West Georgia (5A), and Georgia College and State University (2A) or see Seth Ellerbee’s coverage from Fort Valley State (4A) and Savannah State (3A) below.

4A Boys: North Oconee 65, Baldwin 64 (Seth Ellerbee)

It could have been the hostile Baldwin crowd which encouraged North Oconee’s comeback. Or it might have been the naysayers speaking of the Titans’ inability to match up with the Brave’s stout defense which kept the game close.

Or maybe it was North Oconee’s fundamental basketball winning out against Baldwin’s freakishly athletic drive-and-dish style of play. Then again, it might have been a combination of those things which carried the Titans to victory.

But North Oconee ended the game on a 6-0 run punctuated by a put-back game-winner from sophomore Khamari Brooks to continue the team’s run of first-ever quarterfinal, semifinal and now state championship appearances.

“We just stayed home and executed,” said North Oconee head coach Rick Rasmussen. “We got some key stops and really good buckets down the stretch and cashed in on that. We got a turnover and a charge on the press, which was big.”

Leading up to the game, Rasmussen was off put by media outlets saying his team could not handle the environment against Baldwin, a school in Milledgeville, roughly 90 minutes from Fort Valley, compared to a nearly 3-hour trek from Bogart, where North Oconee High is located.

“We’ve stuck together and weathered adversity all year long,” he said. “There were some haters our there. Some people said we wouldn’t be able to handle the environment and we used that as fuel.”

A lay-in from Brooks with 50 seconds left in the game cut the North Oconee deficit to 64-63 and with 16.5 seconds left, North Oconee benefitted from a jump ball, setting up the game-winner.

“They didn’t really have an answer for (Brooks) on the offensive glass,” he said. “He’s just a well-rounded player and a great defender.”

Baldwin led 13-11 after the first quarter but an 18-12 North Oconee run gave the Titans a 29-25 lead at halftime. Baldwin regained the lead through a 25-21 run in the third quarter to enter the fourth quarter tied at 50.

Five players did the scoring for North Oconee and Brooks led with 28 points while Justin Wise added 14 points and Justin Payne tallied 10 points. Byrd Carter (8 points) and Evan Montgomery (5 points) capped scoring for the Titans.

Baldwin was paced by 21 points from Isaiah Dennis and 11 points each from Karez Demory and Tre Lawrence.

4A Boys: Holy Innocents’ 52, Benedictine 45 (Seth Ellerbee)

Junior Caleb Wilson is hard to guard. He’s 6-foot-10 and being recruited by most Division I programs in the nation and in the nightcap game in the 4A semifinals, he finished with 18 points and 21 rebounds to keep Benedictine at arm’s reach.

“He’s got a wild skill set,” said head coach Mario Mays of his star center. “He shoots the ball well, he blocks well, he passes well. There’s really nothing he can’t do. The rest of the guys did a heck of a job and stayed composed.”

Despite the seven-point margin, Holy Innocents’ held control throughout, leading 22-21 at the half and 35-33 entering the fourth quarter. The Bears expanded the lead to 40-33 with five minutes left in the game and expanded the margin to 12 points, 45-33, with two minutes remaining.

“This is big,” Wilson said. “I feel like as a freshman when we didn’t even make it to state and then last year we lost in the first round and now this year coming up big to make it to the state championship is exciting.”

Will Hopkins scored 12 points and Devin Hutcherson added 10 points for Holy Innocents’.

“We just have to finish the drill,” Wilson said.

4A Girls: Hardaway 57, North Oconee 44 (Seth Ellerbee)

Bittersweet. That’s what last year’s loss in the same round felt like for Hardaway head coach Kelly Ellison.

Since, the Hawks have only lost four contests and after a 57-44 victory over North Oconee in the semifinals, Ellison and Hardaway have a chance for the program’s first ever state championship.

“It means so much because we were here last year and lost in the Final Four,” Ellison said of the loss to eventual-champion Griffin 59-54. “So to persevere and win to go to the championships means everything.”

Hardaway led 11-5 after the first quarter and 28-21 at the half. The Titans cut the lead to two possessions, 46-40 early in the fourth quarter, but Hardaway maintained control, expanded the margin and put the game away.

“They are a great shooting team and we had to make sure we closed out on their shooters and we made sure we didn’t rush our shots. We looked for mismatches and handled them.”

Mikayla Johnson finished with a team-leading 20 points to pace Hardaway.

“She’s an automatic threat,” Ellison said. “Instant offense. North Oconee did a great job early on trying to limit her and press her but we made some adjustments. My team just does a great job.”

Akilah Shelton added 11 points for Hardaway and Adazha Burrell finished with nine points. North Oconee was paced by Kendall Wells (18 points) and Lolly Willis (15 points).

4A Girls: Baldwin 55, Fayette County 32 (Seth Ellerbee)

Baldwin has won 24 straight games including a 55-32 victory over Fayette County in the semifinals Saturday to make it to the state championship game for the second consecutive season.

And now, the team will have a chance at the program’s fourth state championship since winning three-consecutive titles from 1986-1988.

Baldwin’s girls felt the sting of defeat in last year’s 4A championship game, losing to Griffin 51-47. But since, the Braves have only lost two games — in back-to-back contests — against A Division I No. 1 and defending-champion St. Francis on Nov. 25 and 2022 7A champion Norcross on December 2.

“After last season the girls are ready,” said Baldwin head coach Kizzi Walker. “Earlier in the season we faced some adversity regarding a selfish mentality about ‘Who is going to score the points?’ from the girls, but we moved past that and learned from our losses.”

Baldwin had little issues with the Tigers, leading 14-3 after the first quarter and 30-10 at the half in the romp. The Braves controlled a 43-25 lead entering the fourth quarter.

“After losing last season, I think now is our time,” said Walker, a Georgia Southwestern alum who has coached the boys and girls teams at Baldwin after a stint coaching Sumter County in Americus.

Janaye Walker finished with 12 points to pace Baldwin and Kassidy Neal added 11 points. Fayette County was led by Bri’Ann Freeman, who scored nine points.

3A Boys: Sandy Creek 66, Carver-Columbus 32 (Craig Sager II)

Defending state champion Sandy Creek weathered a slow start and locked down the Tigers with man-to-man defense to clinch a 34-point victory and head into the finals with a 47.3 average margin of victory through the first four rounds. Sandy Creek’s Amari Brown opened the scoring with 5:50 left in the first quarter and Jacobi Robinson capitalized off a Carver turnover to push the lead to 4-0. Champ Simpson scored Carver’s first basket of the game on a put-back off the glass with 3:02 left in the first quarter. Sandy Creek’s 6-foot-8 senior Micah Smith answered with his first basket to push the Patriots back up 6-2. Carver’s Tristian Givens went one-of-two at the foul line and then Sandy Creek’s Lattimore and Carver’s Simpson traded late three-pointers to close out a 9-6 defensively-dominant first quarter.

The Patriots opened the second quarter on a 12-0 run and grew a 21-6 lead before Carver finally broke the drought with just 3:13 left in the half at the foul line. Carver’s Jakobe Caslin drew a foul on a three-point attempt and the Tigers would score all seven of their second-quarter points at the foul line. Simpson’s put-back lay-up and three-pointer were the only field goal attempts made by Carver in the entire first half. Sandy Creek’s offense was fueled by Smith—who came up big with a fast break dunk with 36.6 left to push the lead to 25-13 and close out the half with 10 points.

Sandy Creek’s Jared White got the Patriots going in the third quarter with back-to-back baskets and Brown closed out the third quarter with a corner three-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead to 47-23. Smith finished with a game-high 20 points and capped Sandy Creek’s 16-2 fourth quarter lead with a two-handed reverse dunk. Carver quickly inbounded the ensuing possession, but Smith beat the Tigers down the court and earned a standing ovation with a block at the rim to force a timeout with just 3:32 left and Sandy Creek up 60-25. Jacobi Robinson finished with 13 points and the Patriots also got key contributions from Brown (9), Josh Hales (7) and Green (8). Carver’s offense struggled against Sandy Creek’s man-to-man defense and Simpson led the Tigers with eight points, while Tristian Givens finished with six.

3A Boys: Johnson-Savannah 55, Dougherty 51 (Najeh Wilkins)

Johnson-Savannah continued its phenomenal postseason run after drawing a charge with 17 seconds left in the game to outlast Dougherty in a tightly contested game that featured several lead changes. Saturday’s victory marked the Atmosmashers’ third consecutive win over a ranked opponent and positions the team one win away from achieving the program’s first state title since 2013 when they face Sandy Creek in Macon.

The pivotal stretch of the game happened after a big bucket from Cormari Jones as he extended Johnson-Savannah’s lead to 53-47. Dougherty’s Kaleke Singletary-Jinks cut the deficit back to two points after converting a difficult and one. The Trojans had a chance to tie the game at 53-53 but Markelle Jones missed both free throws. Dougherty was to get another critical stop to get the ball back. Jinks drove to the rim and drew contact like he did all fourth quarter but the defender was in the legal guarding position and drew the charge. It was a critical call because if it was called on Johnson-Savannah it would have been another and one for Jelks. The Atomsmashers were able to hit their free throws to close out the game and advance.

Favion Kirkwood carried the scoring load on offense, scoring nine of Johnson-Savannah’s 22 points in the first half. The third quarter would be the Cormari Jones show as he got it going and scored seven of his 17 points in the quarter. After a low-scoring first half, Johnson-Savannah had it going in the third quarter and built the biggest lead of the game at 14 points. Their defense also held Dougherty to just nine points in the third. The Atomsmashers outscored the Trojans 19-9 in the third quarter and started the third quarter on a 9-2 run. Kirkwood and Jones were instrumental in helping Johnson-Savannah build its lead in the third. Dougherty came storming back in the fourth quarter and was led by their defense. Their full-court pressure was causing turnovers that led to easy baskets in transition. The Trojans used this run to get back in the game after trailing by double-digits. Singletary-Jinks was the driving force behind a strong run in the fourth quarter. He single-handedly got Dougherty back in the game with his scoring. His relentless pursuit to the rim, while finishing through contact, got the Trojans back in the game after trailing by double-digits. He also converted three and one buckets in the quarter. Jinks finished with 18 points. Jawuan Jelks also added 11 points for the Trojans.

3A Girls: Hebron Christian 97, Monroe 42 (Craig Sager II)

Defending Class 3A girls state champion Hebron Christian (29-2) entered Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Monroe at Savannah State University ranked as high as No. 11 in the latest MaxPreps National Rankings and the Lions closed out a stunning 97-42 victory to validate their national prowess and make a strong case to ascend in the next edition of polls.

The Lions’ 55-point blowout in the semifinals is a pattern seen throughout their run to the finals and the team will head to Macon with a 49.5 average margin of victory through their last four rounds. Hebron Christian got off to a 27-7 lead after the first quarter and maintained a stifling full-court press for the entire game. The Lions grew their lead to 57-18 at the half after pouring on 30 points in the second quarter. Head coach Jan Azar called a timeout with her Lions leading 38-13 with 3:40 left in the half and Hebron Christian outscored the Hurricanes 19-5 to close out the half. Junior Mia James hit five three-pointers in the first half and was responsible for 11 points in the final 3:40 of the first half. Camryn Register was scoreless until the final minute of the half and knocked down back-to-back three-pointers, including a corner three with just one second left on the clock

Hebron Christian outscored Monroe 20-14 in the third quarter to expand its lead to 77-32 and forced an abbreviated six-minute final frame. Danielle Osho, who scored five points in the first half, finished the game with 17 points and scored 10 in the third quarter. Register knocked down another pair of three-pointers in the third and finished with 12 points.

Monroe was led by 6-foot-1 freshman Kie’Aundria Acree’s team-high 18 points. The Golden Tornadoes also got nine points from Ciarra Lunsford and an eight-point performance from freshman Taylor McKinzy. Monroe finished the season with a 21-10 overall record.

Hebron had five different players notch double figures, including Jones (24), Osho (17), Register (12), Ja’kerra Butler (12) and Aubrey Beckham (12). Nickyia Daniel added eight points and Aniya Moodie netted all four of her points in the fourth quarter.

3A Girls: Wesleyan 71, Carver-Columbus 57 (Najeh Wilkins)

Wesleyan won its 11th-consecutive game to advance to the state championship under first-year head coach Ellen Paroli. The Lady Wolves used a 21-point fourth quarter to edge the Lady Tigers to get back to the tile game where they will take on Hebron Christian—which ended Wesleyan’s run last season in the semis 65-58.

Here is how they did it.

Wesleyan went on an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull away from Carver after things got interesting in the game and the lead was cut to single digits. During the crucial stretch, Chazadi Wright scored five points on her own, and Johanna Potter scored four points in the interior—while Bryanna Preston hit a jumper. This run gave Wesleyan some much-needed breathing room and helped them close out the game. Potter. was the leading scorer for the Lady Wolves with 18 points. Preston finished with 16 and Wright added 13 points.

Wesleyan had a strong start to the game opening on an 8-2 run and led 23-11 at the end of the first quarter. Their most impressive quarter of the game came in the second when they held the Lady Tigers to seven points. They did it with impressive ball pressure and building a wall around the rim. The Lady Wolves held a comfortable 37-18 lead at the break.

Carver-Columbus found their stride in the second half scoring 39 second-half points. The Lady Tigers went on an 8-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter and made things interesting. They were forcing turnovers and getting to the basket. Jazmin Thornton and Camryn Thomas were pivotal in the run that cut the deficit to nine points. Thomas finished with 18 points and Thornton added nine points. Carver-Columbus scored their highest total of the game in the fourth with 23 points.

The end of the third quarter was where the momentum started to build for the Lady Tigers. In the third quarter, Carver-Columbus scored 16 points. The Lady Tigers were applying ball pressure and were able to force the Lady Wolves into some mistakes. The momentum of the game began to shift at this point, but it wasn’t enough for the Carver-Columbus to win.

The Lady Wolves will be seeking its first title since 2018. The win sets up a national matchup in the state championship against Hebron Christian. Wesleyan will also take on their former head coach, who was responsible for the strong run that saw them win six consecutive championships from 2008-2013.

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