Sonoraville Phoenix Basketball

Phoenix rise up to edge Warriors in The Furnace

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No. 10 Sonoraville 55, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 51

In a season that has felt anything but normal, Friday night harkened back to the age of COVID-free basketball as No. 10 Sonoraville (16-0, 10-0) hosted Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (9-4, 7-3) in an important Region 6-3A battle. The Furnace was packed as the heat of the crowd helped spur the Phoenix to a 55-51 win continuing Sonoraville’s best start in the school’s 15-year history as they approach their record 23 wins behind a senior-laden group.

Coming off a statement win over No. 6 LaFayette 65-40, the Phoenix took to the floor for their third game in five days against a talented young Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe team. Sonoraville, who starts five seniors that have seen the good, the bad and the ugly over the course of their career, has risen from the ashes of irrelevancy to be the best team in Northwest Georgia this season enjoying a magical run. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe on the other hand, is led by a trio of talented sophomores that turned the Warriors from a 12-14 team to a burgeoning 23-5 power a season ago.

Led by Kevin Morrison and Orry Darnell, Sonoraville got off to a good start. Darnell, a 5-foot-11 point guard, scored from the mid-range to knot the game at 5 early on before Morrison sank a long jumper to make it 8-8 at the 2:41 mark.

Morrison hit a pair of threes and scored eight of his 12 points in the quarter to give the Phoenix a boost, but the Warriors answered with three three-pointers and entered the second quarter trailing 15-11.

Super sophomore 6-foot-1 point guard Jamichael Davis got loose in the second quarter for LFO getting a slam dunk to spark him and then taking his man off the dribble to keep the Warriors within reach at 21-17 mid-way through the quarter.

While Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe looked to speed the game up and take advantage of their athleticism, Sonoraville was comfortable playing at their own pace and following the lead of Darnell, who would finish with a game-high 19 points and 5 assists. He would score on a lefty finish and then net a mid-range jumper to help keep the Phoenix in front 27-24 at the half.

The Warriors came out of halftime with purpose, turning to a 2-2-1 press to try and speed up Sonoraville and force some live ball turnovers. Davis thrived in transition and helped the Warriors gain momentum. He would finish with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 5 steals and 1 block and set up Amari Burnett for a layup on the break to edge ahead 32-31.

Up 36-33 with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter and things starting to go LFO’s way, the tide turned on a game-changing play. Sonoraville had a fast break opportunity and Burnett hustled down the floor to clean up a potential miss, but his right knee buckled before he could go up for the rebound and he tumbled into a heap. Burnett would be helped off the floor and have ice applied, ending his day prematurely after leading all scorers at the time with 14 points, scoring inside and out and giving Sonoraville fits with his versatility and physicality.

With Burnett injured, 6-foot-2 forward Murray Somers started to take over. He would net nine of his 16 points in the quarter and finish with 10 rebounds. Somers got busy on the glass and hit a three at the buzzer to push Sonoraville to a 42-38 lead after three, closing on a 9-2 run after the loss of Burnett.

Without one of their most important pieces, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe continued to fight and nip away at the Sonoraville lead. Davis broke free for a transition slam to ignite a 5-0 run that would put the Warriors ahead 43-42, but Darnell and Somers hooked up for an And-1 to regain control at 45-43 with 3:57 remaining following Somers’ bucket and free throw.

In crunch time, it was Darnell and Somers’ time to shine. Sonoraville took the lead for good with 2:07 left on a Darnell three before Morrison got a putback with 1:58 remaining to extend the lead to 50-45.

Without a bucket in almost two minutes and scrambling for points, instead of a much-needed hoop, the Warriors saw Darnell come away with a steal with just 37.2 seconds to play. Following a pair of free throws, Cameron Gregg drilled a three to cut into the lead with 23.7 seconds left at 52-48. From there, Somers helped ice the game going 3-4 from the line to secure the 55-51 win.

My Take

While they may not be a state title favorite, Sonoraville will still be a tough out in the state tournament. Region 6-3A traditionally hasn’t been a juggernaut come playoff time, but there are a handful of solid teams. Sonoraville and Murray County are senior-heavy teams while Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe has the best young backcourt in the pocket of the state and LaFayette has big-game experience in February and has a star in 6-foot-7 Aidan Hadaway. With that being said, Sonoraville hasn’t compiled the resume that LaFayette has, who has won every game by double digits, but the Phoenix’s 65-40 destruction of the Ramblers speaks volumes. Aside from that win, Sonoraville has won games close and sometimes ugly. Out of their 16 wins, seven have come by 7 points or less. Their experience in tight games and their ability to know how to win when the game is on the line bodes well for a veteran group on the verge of making history. Orry Darnell is the head of the snake. The point guard plays with poise and very little flash. He orchestrates the offense and doesn’t need the extra razzle-dazzle to be effective. He excelled at getting to his spots in the mid-range and finding the open man. His timely play makes him the go-to guy when the game hangs in the balance capable of either being a scorer or facilitator. I thought Murray Somers was crucial down the stretch and is a versatile X-Factor. Listed at 6-foot-2, with his strong college-ready body and nose for the ball, Somers plays bigger than his size and can hurt teams inside and out. He was instrumental in helping shutdown Hadaway in their rout of LaFayette and on Friday, it was his 15 second half points that carried the Phoenix during stretches. Kevin Morrison stands 6-foot-4 and provides a similar inside-out diversity. He hit two early threes and crashed the glass inside.  Sonoraville is a team that plays hard and understands where their strengths and weaknesses lie. There is a synergy between the players and the staff led by Coach Brent Mashburn that helps the Phoenix when facing adversity. On the hunt for their first ever win in the state playoffs, if Sonoraville can secure home court advantage the Phoenix will be tough to beat in The Furnace.

Even with the loss and sitting at 7-3 in region play, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe is a scary team that no one will want to play come region tournament time. 6-foot-1 sophomore Jamichael Davis is a budding star. His electric athleticism and all-around floor game make him a complete guard. He can get to the rim with the best of them and can outjump anyone in the region. He will have to improve his outside shot, but few are better than Davis in transition. He and Dee Calhoun caused problems with their bounce and length. Calhoun is a solid role player that can chip in on the glass and defend multiple spots. The loss of Amari Burnett changed the game. At 6-foot-3, the wide-chested sophomore is a problem for opponents. The lefty can help stretch the floor and has nice footwork inside. He drained two threes before injuring his knee. If he is out for an extended period of time, it will hurt LFO’s chances of locking down a favorable seed. It was an off night for shooters Cameron Gregg and Brent Bowman. Bowman could never get into a flow, as he sat on the bench for long periods of time presumably with foul trouble. He started the game with a three-pointer and had some nice moves with the ball in his hands, but he could never consistently find his offense finishing with 4 points and 3 assists. Bowman has a lot of skill and when he’s on, he’s a three-level scorer that can torch defenses. The 2023 trio of he, Davis and Burnett should win many games and has the potential to be a major threat come state tournament time. I think those three could go toe-to-toe with many in Class 3A by the time they are seniors. Gregg, a senior, will be key down the stretch for LFO. His ability to stretch the floor alongside Bowman will give Davis plenty of drive and kick opportunities. Give credit to the Sonoraville defense to holding Gregg and Bowman to a combined 7 points, well below their combined 25.2 point-per-game average. I foresee bounce back games for both of them in the very near future.

Top Performers

Orry Darnell – 19 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Murray Somers – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals
Kevin Morrison – 12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe
Jamichael Davis – 17 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 5 steals, 1 block
Amari Burnett – 14 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block
Dee Calhoun – 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals