The No. 1 ranked Bulldogs visit the No. 6 ranked Golden Lions in a crucial Region 6-AAAA showdown. Both teams along with No. 5 Grady have emerged as the front runners to win one of the state’s toughest regions. Grady visits Lithonia on Friday with a chance to extend their lead on the rest of the region after already knocking off St. Pius, 51-50. Even after back-to-back losses to Wesleyan Christian Academy (NC) and 3ANo. 3 Morgan County 44-41, Lithonia has maintained its No. 1 ranking all season. The addition 6-foot-7 forward Jacara Cross from Cedar Grove has seemingly put the Bulldogs over the top as a legitimate state title contender. Cross is coming off a 19-point, 10-rebound performance in an 85-52 blowout victory over Chamblee on Tuesday. His versatility to score inside and out coupled with the rest of a talented senior class makes Lithonia a diverse team that can get stops and get out and run while also being able to score in the half court. Tyheem Freeman scored 22 points on Tuesday while Rodney Chatman finished with 13 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Tyleen Patterson is another important guard and Derious Wimberly is an experienced body inside. St. Pius will counter with leading scorer, senior forward Kerney Lane. The 6-foot-6 southpaw leads the Golden Lions in scoring with over 21 points per game. His ability to drive the lane and hit the open jumper makes him tough to stop. In a 33-30 slugfest victory over Columbia on Dec. 4, Lane drilled a three at the buzzer to secure the victory and fend off the Eagles. He scored 24 of his team’s 33 points and doesn’t shy away from taking big shots. He receives help from another talented forward, Christian Merrill. Inside, 6-foot-7 Jakob Spitzer must play well. He has shown flashes this season of being a threat down low, but consistency is the one aspect he must find in order to take not only his game, but the Golden Lions to the next level. His play inside against Cross will be an important matchup to keep an eye on.
5ANo. 9 LaGrange plays the first of a home-and-away tilt against 3ANo.8 Callaway on the road. LaGrange is still looking to hit its stride under first-year Head Coach Mark Veal. Junior LaPerion Perry was hampered at the beginning of the season due a fractured toe he suffered while playing football, but he has begun to work his way back into shape. He joins Rico Smith, an explosive guard who has produced games of 36 and 31 points already in the early season. In Tuesday’s 55-51 win over Whitewater, he scored a team-high 18 points to keep the Grangers undefeated. Mike Hardy, Qua Epps and Alex Dantzler are all capable scorers in the guard heavy lineup. A pair of 6-foot-6 forwards, Kenan Gray and Bryan Fanning, help balance the offensive attack. Fanning finished with 12 points Tuesday night. Callaway is another team that relies on its quick and feisty guards to harass opponents into turnovers which lead to easy buckets. Last year the Cavs were one of the highest scoring teams in AAA, averaging 79 points per game. Junior combo guard Braylon Sanders paces the attack with 18.5 points per game. Dre Martin has poured in 16 points in both games while 6-foot-4 forward Joe Brown is averaging 14 per game. Earnest Patillo is another dangerous threat and scored 17 points in the Cavs’ 75-62 season opening win against Greenville to lead the team.
On Nov. 3 I released my Sandy’s Spiel Super Sleepers (https://sandysspiel.com/sandys-spiels-super-sleepers/) for the 2015-16 season, and low and behold, two of them meet at the East Hall Showcase tournament. Harrison has played well this season as they battle for a top four seed out of Region 4-AAAAAA. On Tuesday the Hoyas dropped a close one, 69-68 at Hillgrove. Austin York is the team’s captain and go-to player. He is 6-foot-4 and has good feet inside, showing an ability to score down low with a variety of moves. York also likes to step outside and shoot the three when open, and is a steady defender, always eager to give his body up to draw a charge. Ryan Boler is another hard working post player that does the dirty work inside for Coach Clay Crump. Tate Coston, Chris Brown and Juwan Owens all do nice things from their guard positions and help keep the offense flowing. They will be tested by 2-AAAAA’s Houston County Bears, a dangerous team that continues to grow under Coach Stephen Walls. Zion Johnson, DL Hall, Jaylon Golds and Amari Colbert are all strong guards that can score the ball and defend. They will be put to the test on Friday at No. 8 Warner Robins, but it won’t be their first challenge of the year. After dropping the season opener to the nearly unstoppable Khavon Moore and Westside-Macon 64-41, a week later they quickly rebounded and defeated them at home, 78-75 in overtime. Three days later they fell to 1ANo. 4 Whitefield Academy 55-50. Last Friday the Bears beat Dublin 88-77 behind some big performances. Johnson scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out five assists. Hall went for a team-high 25 points and 12 rebounds while Golds gave Coach Walls another all-around floor game, collecting 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Javion Johnson and Marquis Traylor are two athletic big men that complement the Bears’ strong guard play and make them a complete team.