It’s still a week until Thanksgiving, but the menu for early season GHSA basketball games has whetted our appetite for the season ahead. One such game was the cross-county rivalry between two Final Four teams from last year, the Sandy Creek Patriots from AAAA and Fayette County from AAAAA. Playing before two huge student sections, the game stayed within six points the entire night. The ending was dramatic, as the Tigers would score the winning basket on their last possession for the 67-65 win.
Coach Andre Flynn is back on the Tiger bench, he has coached there for over 20 years, but the players that took them to the Final Four in Columbus have moved on. He is working with a clean slate, but because of his consistency and the system he employs, the new players know exactly how they fit in. This year’s group is built around athleticism and discipline. For Sandy Creek, they brought back much of the talent that took them to Augusta last year for the semifinals but have welcomed a new coach, Jon-Michael Nickerson. Coach Nickerson, who comes with an impressive resume as a player, high school coach and college coach, brings a more defensive mindset than the past. He has a deep, talented roster with height and leadership.
On this night, there was a buzz before the tip that lasted until the final whistle, both coaches and players would say it’s early, this is a non-region game, it is not that important in the grand scheme of things, but actually, it was important to them and their play proved that. In a game that was crisp and full of athleticism and sportsmanship, Sandy Creek took a two-point lead to half. You could tell the defensive energy that both coaches were looking for was there which kept the game low scoring.
The fourth quarter, which started with Fayette County ahead 48-45 was almost a blur. It felt like the first three quarters were warm up and this was for real. Josh Dupree and Rickey Knight would hit back-to-back threes to give the Tigers the largest lead of the night at six, only to see Sandy Creek come back. Jarred Godfrey would hit two threes himself within 15 seconds of each other and with 2:50 remaining, the Patriots were up 60-59. Ultimately, it came down to a tie game with under a minute. Fayette County point guard JeKobe Coleman, an ELCA transfer, worked from the top of the key as the Tigers waited patiently for their opportunity. With 9 seconds remaining, Coleman found Jordan Brown who had snuck in behind the Patriot zone defense for the game winning shot.
Sandy Creek had eight seconds, but Josh Dupree stole the basketball and ended the night
Afterwards Flynn said, “Our guys are so young, you don’t know how they will compete until the game starts, we did not play well on Saturday in a loss to East Coweta, but I am proud of how they fought tonight. We want to see how they respond when they get beat up because it gives you an indication of the growth. We will need to continue to grow as the year goes on.”
JeKobe Coleman threw the pass to Brown for the winning score just like he did this season for the Fayette County football team as their QB. He was very calm and collected, the moment was not too big for the sophomore. It is always great to see the two sport athletes play.
Jarred Godfrey has bought into Coach Nickerson’s philosophies on the court. Godfrey has developed into a true leader, the college watching last night loved his performance.
Patriot Kameron Miller has one speed – wide open; he scored, he passed, he rebounded and he was everywhere.
The Tigers are young and are liable to have a bad game from time to time, but they are good and will get better.
The Patriots lineup of Miller, Godfrey, TJ Bickerstaff, Xavier Brewer and Julian Alexander has a good mix of height and quickness.
Look for both teams to make noise in the post season.
2016-17 Record: 5-19 Head Coach: Karen Frady – 1st Season
Coach Frady will be the Lady Indians’ third head coach in three years. She is an East Coweta alumni with deep ties to the community. She envisions the beginning of a long process, but is excited about the challenge.
“When we first started, the girls did not know how to play man-to-man defense, they are just so used to losing. We are starting the process, we are challenging the girls to get a little better each day. It’s all about learning fundamentals. We need to stress fundamentals all day, every day. We will set some small goals for the season and try to achieve those first. Honestly, I’m not that concerned about wins and losses — my main thing is I want the girls to be better than they were at the start of the season, and it begins with getting the fundamentals down.”
In terms of this current squad, she said “We have six seniors, we have quickness, and the ladies are quick learners. We are going to focus on defense and on slowing the game down. That will be the best way for us to learn and follow the process.”
They are in one of the toughest regions in the state, Region 2, and the lessons are going to be painful, but look for Coach Frady to add some stability and take a few steps forward in the process. Alex Colton, London Fowler, Aja Manning and Haley Davis will be the players Frady will count on.
East Coweta Indians
2016-17 Record: 14-12 Head Coach: Royal Maxwell — 3rd Season
Assistant Coach Ty Townsend introduced the Indians team leaders; Derrick Emory, Brandon Stroud, Jamir Williams, Rhet Reynolds and Isaiah Richardson. The challenge for the upcoming season is to replace their big man that graduated last season, Elafayette Stone. Coach Townsend said it would be “a next man up mentality. There are a lot of returning players and we expect to be more disciplined. There is not a whole lot of tradition here, but we are looking to continue to build on last year and our expectations are higher this year.”
With the sting of last year’s season ending loss to Campbell in overtime, the players said, “This year, we have broken the season down into chapters, and we intend to read the whole book.”
Look for the Indians to improve on last seasons’ record and be a factor in the region tournament. They have already started an impressive resume with a solid win against a Fayette County team that made the Final Four last year in their opener.
Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Emily Sweeney – 1st Season
At Starr’s Mill, the ladies coach from last season, Shane Ratliff, was promoted and assistant Emily Sweeney has stepped into the top spot; it has been a big year from Sweeney who now has the head coaching job and just got married as well. She has implemented a motion offense and is currently working in more press defense looks. With the graduation of their post player from last season, the team will be built around the guard play of Alyssa Angelo and Alice Anne Hudson. Also key will be senior and returning starter Emily Nieuwstraten and freshman Ali Rumpel, in the middle, who adds height.
Angelo and Nieuwstraten have just made the transfer over from softball and have not missed a beat. Sweeney said, “Alyssa is like having a coach on the floor, she keeps everyone where they are supposed to be, and she is tough as nails.”
Their goal is make it back to the state playoffs, which will depend on how quickly the freshman gets up to speed and how the team jells to the new systems.
Starr’s Mill Panthers
2016-17 Record: 18-11 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Brandon Hutchins — 12th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 10
The Panthers return a large portion of the Sweet 16 team from last year that lost to Miller Grove in the playoffs. With a roster that includes eight seniors, Coach Hutchins says, “This is the best group I have ever been around.”
One omission from the team unfortunately is three-year starter Zach Pina, who transferred before his senior season to arch-rival McIntosh. Hutchins on the loss, “We miss Zach of course, he was a big part of this program, but we have moved on, it is next man up. Fortunately for us, everyone on the roster can handle the ball.” Senior Jake Bishop will take over the point guard duties in the Panther offense.
Starr’s Mill has a lot of height up front in 6-foot-7 Nate Allison, 6-foot-5 Drew Hudson and 6-foot-6 Chase Sands and Coach Hutchins indicted that junior Julian Lynch has opened some eyes in the preseason camp. Senior Drew Hudson said, “We went to a couple of college camps this summer and had success, we are excited.”
If Bishop can run the offense, look for the Panthers to make a state playoff return.
McIntosh Lady Chiefs
2016-17 Record: 20-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Jessica Carlyle — 1st Season
When longtime McIntosh Lady Chief Head Coach David Dowse left after a successful 2016/17 campaign to take the Lumpkin County job, the Chiefs reached out to former Landmark Christian Head Coach Jessica Carlyle. Her first impression of the team was that the core players were serious about basketball. She said “My philosophy is very much different from what the players are used to. We have a very small roster, very short and we are going to play very serious in your face defense.”
Her leaders include Junior Kennedy Miller and Rylee Calhoun. Per Carlyle, “Kennedy is a phenomenal point guard and in the past her role was to distribute the ball, we will be asking her to take on more of the scoring responsibility this year. And Rylee, she seems to always have a basketball in her hand. She has a nice shot as well.”
At the college summer camps, Miller said “They taught us more about being a leader on the floor.”
You can bet that Carlyle’s new emphasis on defense will catch hold of her quick athletic team and they will be right in the middle of the playoff chase again.
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Jason Eisele — 16th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 7
Head Coach Jason Eisele is the dean of the Coweta/Fayette coaches as he embarks on his 16th season. Of his current edition, he said “We will not impress you off the bus, but our entire roster of 13 players are extremely skilled and we will cause match-up problems because of our speed and depth. We will be very flexible and can play a lot of different groups.”
A roster that includes six seniors includes two potential stars in transfer guard Zach Pina and 6-foot-7 wing player Cole Guenther. Pina is an efficient scorer who can drive to the rim or hit the outside shot. When asked about the whirlwind of his transfer, he said “It just feels good to be wearing green and black.”
Guenther has a deadly outside shot and if he is on, it can be lights out. Eisele said “Cole has worked hard over the summer on his ball handling skills and taking the ball to the rim to compliment his shot.” With the versatility and the leadership of Pina and Guenther, this could turn into a special mix. Eisele summed it by saying “we have a lot of selfless players, and we will play a lot faster than we ever have.”
Spalding Lady Jaguars
2016-17 Record: 22-7 (Elite Eight) Head Coach: Tykira Gilbert — 3rd Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 2
Head Coach Tykira Gilbert and the defending Region 2-AAAA Lady Jaguars are preparing for a special season. Starting her third year, Coach Gilbert said, “We have completely changed the culture of girls basketball here at Spalding in just three years.” As for this year’s team, Gilbert said “We will play fast, in your face defense, we love to press, that is who we are.” A lot of that speed and athleticism comes from Region 2-AAAA player of the year Kiana Banks, who won the state track championship in the 400 meter and just signed a track scholarship with TCU.
Gilbert will look for leadership from the point guard position from senior Kirah Milner. With a deep and talented roster and the star power of Banks and Milner, look for the Lady Jaguars to make a run at the state championship. When asked about the pressure of the high preseason rankings, Gilbert summed it up perfectly, “They don’t mean anything, it only matters how you finish.” Keep your eye on these ladies this year.
2016-17 Record: 3-22 Head Coach: Joey Wilder — 1st Season
New Jaguar Head Coach Joey Wilder is no stranger to the court. He has coached at Sandy Creek, Fayette County and Westlake. In 12 years of coaching, he won seven region championships, with one state runner-up and two final fours, and was named the assistant coach of the year. He brings that experience to begin to build the same excitement and energy that Coach Gilbert has with the ladies program.
Even with the poor record from last year, Wilder sees the pieces to begin the process. “We have very talented kids, we are learning and implementing accountability and dealing with our egos, we are slowly growing. But our roster has talent and I have seen improvement in all players. We are going from a slow tempo offense to more movement. We need to learn to trust each other and jell as a team.”
Leading the way will be junior leaders G Josh Reddick and 6-foot-8 center Phillip Richards. There are five seniors on the roster for leadership and a very strong junior class, including some incoming freshman and sophomores who will get some playing time. When just starting out, Wilder said, “It is always good to have a big man like PR.” Look for the Jaguars to be much improved and blow past last year’s win total.
Whitewater Lady Wildcats
2016-17 Record: 13-12 Head Coach: Rashad Muhyee — 5th year
After an injury riddled season last year, the Lady Wildcats are once again healthy and look to get back into the playoff conversation. Coach Muhyee said the team goals this year are to win the region and make it out of the first round. To accomplish, the Lady Wildcats will rely on talented juniors Jada Claude, 6-foot with a strong inside game, Courtney Smith, a scoring guard who is coming back from injury and Maya Bryant who also has the size to play inside.
When asked where they had improved the most during the off season, Smith said, “I have worked really hard on my ball handling,” while Claude said “ball handling, it will open up my scoring and passing lanes. In talking about their toughest opponents ahead, Muhyee said, “We don’t look at our opponents, we look at ourselves, we look at how we can improve and get better, and we feel like if we continue to work and improve then the wins will take care of themselves.”
2016-17 Record: 9-15 Head Coach: Fred West — 3rd Season
The story of the Wildcats last season was close but not close enough, they played well in a lot of games but couldn’t pull them out in the end. They enjoyed a couple of big wins against region rivals and state qualifiers Starr’s Mill and McIntosh, but the losses mounted as the season went along. They bring back a strong core in guards CJ Jackson, K’won Bush and Josh Lanier. Unfortunately, their leading scorer from last season Josh Graham has transferred to Pebblebrook.
After a successful summer at a Georgia State camp, the Wildcats look to add big man 6-foot-5 Isaiah Claude and guard Julian Johnson to the rotation. Playing with a smaller line up – the Wildcats will look to play a pesky full court defense and a motion offense that will allow their guards to get open looks. Expect to see a lot of energy and movement on the court. The Wildcats should inch their way back closer to .500 for the season and give a lot of teams match-up problems with their 4-guard sets.
Sandy Creek Lady Patriots
2016-17 Record: 24-7 (Final Four) Head Coach: Janie Hodges — 2nd Season
In her first season, Coach Hodges used an excellent senior backcourt to win the Region 5-AAAA Championship and take a run deep into the playoffs that ended against eventual champion Columbus. Graduation hit the Lady Patriots hard and now Coach Hodges is in charge of leading somewhat of a rebuild, but by no means is the cupboard bare.
While last year’s team was centered around the guard play, this team will strong inside. Returning are inside players junior Paris Thompson and sophomore Daija Powell. Both saw extensive playing time in Coach Hodges’ rotation last year and will be counted on to step up the production this season. Powell has an incredible post game and had several high scoring games last year.
The job of running the offense falls on junior Nina Lum who played significant minutes as a reserve last season. Hodges said, “Nina has been in the program for three years, she is experienced, and she is ready to lead the team.”
The key to the season will be how quickly Coach Hodges can work the new players into the rotations. The Lady Patriots already have a game under their belts against state powerhouse Westlake. Hodges said, “I am glad we played them, it showed us where we are and what we need to work on.” In those early season games, you either win or you learn, the Lady Patriots learned they are in transition, but the future is bright. Look for them to make another run to get into the playoffs.
Sandy Creek Patriots
2016-17 Record: 23-8 (Final Four) Head Coach: Jon-Michael Nickerson — 1st Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 3
The Patriots caught lightning in a bottle late last season and after a disappointing region tournament loss went on a run that took them to the Final Four where they lost to St. Pius. This started a transition within the program as a leadership change brought in Coach Nickerson who brings an impressive college resume. A lot of talent returns with 6-foot-8 wing TJ Bickerstaff, 6-foot-8 stretch forward Xavier Brewer, 6-foot-4 point guard Jarred Godfrey, Chris Porter and spark plug guard Kameron Miller. Coach Nickerson brings a tenacious defensive intensity to the team that was missing in the past.
When asked about the biggest difference between then and now, Miller said, “The practices are more intense and fast paced, there is purpose to everything we do.” Nickerson added, “This was a big change for the players and they bought in, I am proud of where we are, we still have a lot to add in over time, but we are getting there. It takes time to incorporate everything we will do into our game plan, but we are getting there and are ready to play.”
For the players that got a taste of post seasons last year, anything less than a championship with be disappointing. Look for the talented Patriots make a run.
2016-17 Record: 6-21 Head Coach: Willie Reese — 2nd Season
Former Georgia Tech star and assistant coach Willie Reese returns to Griffin for his second season with more reason for optimism. Griffin has a rich heritage in all spots and can boast of multiple state championships in basketball. His philosophy is to build and utilize multi-skill players.
Coach Reese said, “For some reason in the city of Griffin, we have a lot of 6’1 to 6’4 young men which is good because it lets us have interchangeable parts. This year, we will play nine or 10 deep, with six of those players returning from playing time last year. We are looking forward to a good season with steady improvement over last year.”
His key returners include two 2nd team all-region players from last year, point guard Jacarlin Dennis and senior guard Darrell Evans Jr. who is a four-year letterman. Coach Reese reminds his players last year when they were up on eventual Class AAAA champion Upson-Lee late in a game by four points only to see it slip away, that the talent is there, they just need to continue to work on the little things and on playing team basketball.
Reese said, “I learned from Coach Cremins and Coach Hewitt at Tech that it was about the little things, working with kids individually to continue to make small steps, that is what we are doing here at Griffin.”
The Bears will continue to improve this year and look to move up in the region standings; look for an upset or two as well.
Fayette County Lady Tigers
2016-17 Record: 21-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: John Strickland — 13th Season
Coach Strickland has been the model of success and consistency at Fayette County as head coach for 12 years and last season was no different. Strickland has gotten to the point of his career that others are envious of, it has now a legacy, not only with wins but with relationships. This is highlighted by one of his former players, Tessa Holt who played at Boston College and later coached in college, returning as an assistant for this season. That consistency builds confidence in his players that success is right there in front of them.
Lost from last year’s playoff team was leader Darryl Langford who plays at Navy now, but there is plenty of talent returning and the seniors on the roster have played together since middle school. They include guards Maegan Barkley, Trinity Brown and Rikkelle Miller. There is also height in 6-foot-2 sophomore Naomi Franco and freshman 6-foot-1 Celine Akande, both whom add a post presence. When you factor in junior guard Sidney Sims, the Tigers have a deep roster with multiple rotation possibilities.
Coach Strickland said, “To win in girls basketball, you have to make free throws and layups, it’s that simple. We know that and understand that, this team could be really good this year, we have a lot of leaders.”
The Lady Tigers will challenge for the region title and be right in the middle of the playoffs again.
2016-17 Record: 7-18 Head Coach: Maurice Smith — 5th season
The Vikings play in one of the toughest regions in the state, where last year both boys and the girls state champions came from, Region 5-AAAAAA. Under Coach Smith – the Vikes have improved their win total over the past three seasons and look to continue that trend this year and attempt to get over the hump and make some noise in the region tournament.
Coach Smith said, “We already know we can win, we just need to start winning those small battles within the game itself. This year’s roster is deep with 12 who will see playing time, including seven seniors. Leaders on the team include 6-foot-2 Jermarki Cunningham, 6-foot-5 Cam Ellis, 6-foot Perez McLaughlin and 6-fot-2 Devontae Johnson.”
The schedule is tough, Smith said, “from a region standpoint, there are no breaks, every game will be a battle. Our goal is to continue to prove and win two games in the region tournament. I know these guys have it in them. We are 12 deep and all of our players are similar, we have the depth to press and play fast. We don’t have a particular game circled on the schedule, we will just take them one game at a time and see where we end up.”
Look for the Vikings to ride the wave of their seniors and continue the trend of improving their win totals each season.
Did not show up
Fayette County boys
Our Lady of Mercy boys
Our Lady of Mercy girls
It was a tale of two halves for South Cobb, who after falling behind 19-12 to Shiloh in the first half, took advantage of a barrage of floaters and fouls to open the second half and give them just enough firepower to overcome Shiloh in what was the closest game of the night. Shiloh shot 41.2% from the field in the first half (7-17) while South Cobb shot only 25% from the field (4-16).
Shiloh fell into foul trouble early, surrendering seven fouls in the first eight minutes of the first half, compounded by early point guard troubles turning the ball over too often before the team could fall into an offensive set. In an otherwise poor half of basketball, Shiloh ended the half with 9 defensive rebounds and 5 offensive boards, compared to South Cobb’s 10 and 5 rebounds, respectively.
An early run of easy buckets in the paint to open the second half for South Cobb propelled them to the victory, making three straight from the field and two from the stripe before missing. Although outrebounded by Shiloh in the second half, South Cobb shot 71.4% from two-point land (10-14) along with 73.3% from the free throw line (11-15), superior to Shiloh’s 31.8% from the field (7-22).
Shiloh’s inexperienced squad stayed in the 2-3 zone, whereas South Cobb played man with a high press, which at times gave Shiloh issues moving the ball. A technical foul called against a Shiloh guard for complaining about a no-call gave in a tight game gave South Cobb the momentum to finish the game a combined 5-for-7.
Sandy Creek 49, Upson-Lee 34
Upson-Lee head coach Darrell Lockhart elected to sit his frontcourt for the first half of this contest and Sandy Creek took advantage. The lack of depth was evident for Upson-Lee as they struggled to move the ball offensively and get themselves good looks. Indicative of the half that the Knights were enduring, an Upson-Lee assistant coach yelled prior to a trip to the line, “Can you make a free throw?” The answer to his question was promptly answered by the ball’s clang off of the rim.
Sandy Creek was able to build off of their point guard’s energy and post a respectable first half performance. Sandy Creek led 20-8 at the half.
Despite Tye Fagan and co. checking in to start the second half, Upson-Lee was unable to legitimately contend with the Patriots, a bit worrying for a reigning state champion. As the final score reflects, the Knight starters were unable to close the deficit or stop the Patriots defensively.
Despite rough shooting in the first three halves of basketball on the day for Sandy Creek, their jump shooting improved markedly in the second half. The Patriots were also able to force turnovers and wreak havoc in the waxing seconds of Upson-Lee advancing the ball past midcourt. Sandy Creek was impressive in their ability to stay tough and maintain their aggression throughout the game, attacking the ball handler and leaving them little room to make a play.
Shiloh 66, Duluth 50
Shiloh exploited a tired Duluth early and never looked back cruising to a 66-50 victory in a game that was, for all intents and purposes, over before the half. Shiloh harassed Duluth early in the paint on both sides of the ball, driving and seemingly scoring at will. Shiloh’s early successes in the paint freed up the perimeter, which Shiloh aptly recognized and scored by.
Duluth was simply a step behind and a step too slow to stop Shiloh’s offense; their fatigue showed on jump shots, which consistently came up short of the basket.
The box score is very indicative of the general disposition of the game. With 8 minutes gone in the first half, Shiloh led 16-5. At the end of the first half, the score was 45-21, again in favor of Shiloh. With only 6 minutes played in the second half, the scoreboard showed 57-29.
After taking a 15-point loss on the chin against No. 3 LaGrange (20-2, 9-0) and in danger of falling out of the Region 5-AAAA race, No. 8 Cartersville (15-4, 6-2) bowed up to No. 4 Sandy Creek (14-6, 6-2) and rode the home atmosphere to a critical overtime victory.
The Patriots opened the game with one defensive mission in mind: stop Jaylon Pugh. The left-handed junior guard poured in 23 points in an 86-80 loss against Sandy Creek back on Jan. 10. KJ Wilkins and others switched off face-guarding Pugh and held him to three points in the first quarter.
Sandy Creek took an 11-8 lead off a Jarred Godfrey steal and assist to Eric Williams and led 19-14 after one quarter.
Chris Porter came off the bench and sank two threes in the first half to help Sandy Creek grab a 26-19 lead at the 5:59 mark, but Cartersville began to chip away thanks to heavy Patriot foul trouble. The Hurricanes got into the double bonus with 5:54 left and surged ahead, taking 40-33 advantage into the half after a 21-7 run. Pugh keyed the attack, scoring 11 of his game-high 26 in the frame including back-to-back threes late.
In the third quarter, Cartersville’s onslaught continued, as did the foul calls on Sandy Creek. Just 2 minutes and 6 seconds into the second half, the Patriots already saw a 5-to-1 foul discrepancy. Forward Isaac Gridley started to find baskets around the rim as Sandy Creek hesitated to body up the post. He scored nine of his 15 points in the third quarter while TJ Horton sliced and diced the Patriot defense.
Horton, one of Cartersville’s many football players on the roster, netted nine of his 20 points in the quarter, a majority of them coming from downhill charges to the rim while breaking Sandy Creek’s press.
As the Hurricanes were searching for the knockout punch, Wilkins played rope-a-dope. The senior guard scored 10 of Sandy Creek’s 19 points in the period as the Patriots entered the fourth quarter trailing 62-52.
Things got wild.
Down 67-54 with 6:48 left in regulation, Sandy Creek’s press finally cracked Cartersville. Wilkins and 6-foot-7 senior Evan Jester fueled the comeback. Wilkins scored 12 of his team-high 24 points in the quarter while Jester added 11 of his 22.
Sandy Creek sparked an 8-0 run capped by a Jester slam dunk, but the questionable officiating bit the Patriots again. A referee came screaming into the play to T-up Jester for “hanging” on the rim, resulting in Pugh sinking two free throws to push the lead back to seven at 69-62 at the 6:05 mark.
The tide was stemmed momentarily, but the Patriots kept pushing on. Cartersville clung onto an 80-78 lead with 57.8 seconds left after the Patriots closed in on a Williams put-back. Jester came away with a steal and lay-in to knot the game at 80 and the Patriots forced another turnover to take over possession with 49.8 seconds remaining; Jester pleading to Coach Anthony McKissic to hold for one shot after Sandy Creek called timeout.
The Patriots attempted to hold for one shot but lost possession, handing the ball back to Cartersville and sending JKobe Orr to the line with 5.3 seconds to play after a loose ball foul.
In overtime, Wilkins began to cramp less than two minutes in. Miller fouled out, one of three Patriots to do so, with 1:57 left. Pugh pushed the lead to 89-86 at the 1:30 mark. Jester got a bucket and a foul but missed the free throw with 29.9 seconds remaining and Cartersville up 90-88. Pugh deflected a late three-point attempt and Trase Fezzia sank three free throws to ice the game, Cartersville going 27-of-42 from the line while Sandy Creek shot 19-of-27.
It sucks for the players, but the story of this game was the officiating. Sandy Creek didn’t get many calls throughout the game but when the technical foul was assessed to Evan Jester, it was pretty much the last straw and from that point on, you knew it would take a miracle for Sandy Creek to pull this one out. Aside from the abhorrent officiating, Cartersville’s tough-nosed guards did what they had to do. Jaylon Pugh cemented himself as a real deal guard and one of the best in North Georgia. He sank three three-pointers on the night and his lefty touch was deadly from all over the floor. He played closer in overtime with six points. TJ Horton played a whale of a game, especially in the third quarter. He thrived in the open court and made good decisions with the ball. Cartersville’s physical guards gave Sandy Creek some fits. Trase Fezzia was an emotional leader on the floor and his free throws late were huge. Isaac Gridley balanced the Hurricanes offense with a great spark in the third quarter after scoring just two points in the first half. Perignon Dyer had seven points at the half but was kept in check in the second half. With all their key pieces except for Fezzia set to return next year, Cartersville will be a stingy competitor in Class AAAA for at least another year, especially at home.
Sandy Creek was up against it tonight but hats off to them for even forcing overtime. Evan Jester was quiet in the first half with eight points and one rebound but turned it on in a big way in the fourth quarter. Eric Williams rebounded at a high clip and gave the Patriots some much needed second chance buckets. KJ Wilkins was phenomenal in the second half, hitting threes and burring mid-range jumpers en route to netting 22 of his 24 points after halftime. It’s a shame that he cramped up in overtime. He did not score in the extra period. Sandy Creek’s quality depth was definitely tested tonight. Chris Porter shot very well in the first half and little man Kameron Miller is a bundle of energy. The 5-foot-6 guard is an aggressive on-ball defender but he even flashed in a major way with his creativity with the ball, constantly getting into the lane and hanging in the air to find open perimeter shooters.
Mill Creek has forced its way into the conversation as a dangerous team come state tournament time. It will be a two-team race in Region 6 between the Hawks and No. 2 Collins Hill. Though beating the Eagles will be a difficult task, Mill Creek can hang its hat on a handful of strong out-of-region victories highlighted by wins over Class AAAA No. 4 West Hall (43-35), South Forsyth (71-50) and No. 5 Archer (61-51). Seniors Morgan Simmons, Wynter Webb and Kim Forbes along with junior Bridget Mukasa and sophomore Kayla Mulkey compose a potent core for Coach Ashley Phillips. Simmons has more than doubled her scoring output this year, netting over 16 points per game.
Lanier (10-2) 2015-16: 10-17
The Longhorns have already matched last year’s win total with over half of the season remaining. Junior Jamyah Montissol has blossomed into a player to keep an eye on. She leads Lanier with 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2 steals per game. She is joined by junior Bailey Bassette who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.5 steals. Lanier is a young team with their top seven scorers all set to return next season. Only Angela Raez logs important minutes as a senior. Sophomores Kalen Surles (9.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 3.8 spg) and Mekala Fuller (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3 apg, 2.3 spg) are two pieces Coach Oji Perkins can build around for the long haul.
Ware County (8-0) 2015-16: 13-12
Ware County is a sneaky team in South Georgia with designs on earning a high seed out of Region 2. While Wayne County is the favorite to win the region, the Gators led by sophomore Mataea Boyd could cause some problems. She averages 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 steals to pace Ware County whose best win has come against Swainsboro, 49-44. Second in command is 6-foot junior Shondell Vickers who is posting 10.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
No. 7 Sandy Creek (7-1) 2015-16: 9-16
Coach Janie Hodges has come in from Scotland, NC and has proceeded to turn the Lady Patriots around, leading them to a Top 10 ranking in Class AAAA. Sandy Creek’s only loss has come to Class AAAAA No. 7 Villa Rica at the SMI Classic, 67-65. Wins over Marietta (66-65), Hapeville Charter (49-46) and Greenville, SC (66-64) headline the Patriots’ resume and ability to win the close game. Seniors Shanquaylia Stanton, Kasey Toles and Morghan Currie lead the charge with freshman Daija Powell providing a massive lift. Stanton averages 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 4.6 steals while Toles pitches in 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Currie brings a rebounding presence to the table, averaging 9.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals. Powell has a good four years ahead of her. The rookie is posting 11.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks inside.
Wins at No. 8 Calhoun (60-50) and Haralson County (61-54) have cemented the Warriors as a threat in Region 6. Senior Jazzmyn Elston and sophomore Macey Gregg power the offense of a team which has already surpassed last year’s win total. Elston is averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 steals while Gregg goes for 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.8 steals. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe currently resides atop the region at 5-0 in one of Class AAA’s toughest groupings in the state.
Hapeville Charter (8-2) 2015-16: 12-14
6-foot guard Shekinah Howard has sparked Hapeville Charter in Region 6. Howard has received interest from High Major schools with North Carolina State the latest to check her out. She is averaging 17.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Seniors Gayla Bostic and Taylor Barnett flank her on the attack. Bostic posts 9.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.6 blocks inside while Barnett chips in 7 points and 5.1 assists. The Hornets’ exceptional size has harassed opponents. 5-foot-11 senior Jada Neal is averaging 4.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocks while 6-foot-2 freshman Cristany Price is averaging 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Freshman guard Simone Rowland has brought defense to the perimeter tallying 2.9 steals per game with her 6.1 points. They face a major test on Dec. 28 as the Hornets play Class AAAAAAA No. 4 Mill Creek at the Sweet South Classic.
Whitefield Academy (6-2) 2015-16: 5-20
The extreme quality might not be there yet, but the quantity of wins is as Whitefield Academy has already topped last season’s total. The Wolfpack face an uphill climb to make the state playoffs as No. 2 St. Francis, No. 6 Pinecrest Academy, No. 8 Darlington and No. 9 Fellowship Christian all reside in Region 6.
Johnson County (4-2) 2015-16: 7-20
The win-well could dry up at any moment, but for now the Trojans are off to a solid start. Junior Lexus Wright is averaging 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while sophomores Shonnetria Ervin (8 ppg) and Janaya Hawkins (6.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg) have helped the cause.