The boys and girls high school basketball state playoffs in Georgia and Alabama started last week with a combined 19 Columbus area teams qualified for the various tournaments. Now, nine still are vying for a championship.
In the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA 32-team first round, the Region 1 first seed Carver boys beat Region 4 fourth seed Druid Hills 79-64. They play in the second round (Sweet 16) at home Thursday against Region 2 second seed Howard, which beat Region 3 third seed Baldwin 69-66 in overtime.
The tip-off time is expected to be around 7 p.m., following the 5 p.m. Carver girls game.
Leading the Tigers were senior guard A.J. Watts (27 points) and senior forward Jalen King (25 points).
“The first half, we came out a little nervous, a little jittery, but we kind of settled down after halftime,” said Carver coach Warren Beaulah. “We took over the third quarter.”
They did it with a 2-2-1 full-court press, producing Druid Hills turnovers and easier Carver baskets in transition.
“That allowed us to get away from them and put them away,” Beaulah said.
With eight seniors on the team, Beaulah senses the Tigers are primed for a run even deeper than the past two years, when they lost in the Elite Eight to St. Pius X both times. This year, St. Pius is on the other side of the bracket.
“This is probably one of the better teams I’ve had in several years,” said Beaulah, in his 15th year as Carver’s coach. “They’re pretty talented. … This team has a real good opportunity to get to the Final Four. Once you get there, anything can happen, so we have a lot of good things going for us.”
ChattCo and Marion County boys
In Class A public, the 13th-seeded Chattahoochee County boys beat 20th-seeded Claxton 54-48. They will play in the second round (Sweet 16) 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at fourth-seeded Marion County, which received a first-round bye.
In Class AA, the Region 5 second seed Spencer boys beat Region 8 third seed Union County 69-53. They will play in the second round (Sweet 16) 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Region 6 first seed South Atlanta, which beat Region 7 fourth seed Coosa 84-54.
Leading the Greenwave were sophomore guard Jaylin Sellers (23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals), junior forward Malachi Morris (17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) and sophomore center Zavion Evans (5 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks).
Spencer coach Marvin Broadwater liked “the way we rebounded and shot free throws.” He also lauded his team’s “junior leadership. These guys have played for a while, so they have some game experience.”
That’s why, despite having only four seniors on the team, the Greenwave seem to have a better chance of advancing to the Final Four than last year, when they lost to eventual champion Thomasville 84-45 in the Elite Eight.
In Class AAAA, the Region 1 first seed Carver girls remained undefeated (28-0) as they beat Region 4 fourth seed Druid Hills 76-35. They will play in the second round (Sweet 16) 5 p.m. Thursday at home against Region 3 third seed Cross Creek, which upset Region 2 second seed 56-49.
Junior center Olivia Cochran led the Tigers with 24 points.
Carver coach Anson Hundley credits the team’s solid defense and up-tempo offense for leaving no doubt about their first-round result.
“It’s important for us to play our brand of basketball,” he said. “The score doesn’t really matter. Just get the win.”
In Class AAAA, the Region 1 second seed Hardaway girls beat Region 4 third seed Woodward 78-51. They will play in the second round (Sweet 16) 6 p.m. Wednesday at Region 2 first seed Spalding, which beat Region 3 fourth seed Thomson 57-40.
Leading the Hawks were senior forward Genesis Adams (25 points, 16 rebounds), sophomore guard JiMia Cobb (13 points) and junior guard Deyanna McKinney (11 points, 6 assists).
The key to getting the program’s first state playoff appearance in five years off to a winning start, said second-year coach Kelly Ellison, was “our up-tempo style of play. We shared the ball very well, and our defense was critical.”
Ellison also praised her team’s “second effort.”
“We have a lot of athletes,” she said, “and I’ve been pushing them to use that athleticism. . . . They definitely did that Friday night.”
Spalding is the defending Class AAAA champion, but Ellison said, “I believe we can take them.”
Harris County girls
In Class AAAAA, the Region 1 first seed Harris County girls beat Region 4 fourth seed Woodland-Stockbridge 51-47. They will play in the second round (Sweet 16) 6 p.m. Wednesday at home against Region 2 second seed Wayne County, which beat Region 3 third seed Fayette County 74-47.
Leading the Tigers were senior forward Taziaha Fanning (16 points), senior guard Ny’Azjha Carter (14 points) and junior center ZiKeyah Carter (13 points, 21 rebounds).
Although she lamented her team’s poor shooting, Harris County coach Steffanie Ramsey was pleased to see 6-foot-5 center ZiKeyah Carter controlling the boards, Fanning doing what it takes to score inside and Ny’Azjha Carter being aggressive to get to the foul line and make free throws.
“Right now,” Ramsey said, “it’s just win and survive.”
The third Carter sister on the team, freshman Jherni Carter, filled in for injured three-guard Nijae Edwards, who might be able to play against Wayne County, Ramsey said.
Last year, Harris County reached the Final Four, led by Mississippi State signee Jessika Carter, before losing to Flowery Branch 72-55.
Marion County girls
In Class A public, the fourth-seeded Marion County girls, which received a first-round bye, will play in the second round (Sweet 16) at home 5 p.m. Wednesday against 13th-seeded Emanuel County, which beat 20th-seeded Commerce 43-40.
In Class AAAAA, the Region 1 third seed Harris County boys lost 68-63 to Region 4 second seed Woodland.
In Class AAAA, the Region 1 third seed Shaw girls lost 48-45 at Region 4 second seed Luella.
In Class AAA, the Region 4 first seed Kendrick girls lost 48-35 to at-large team Morgan County. The Region 4 fourth seed Kendrick boys lost 74-69 to Region 1 first seed Crisp County.
In Class A public, the 22nd-seeded Manchester boys lost 71-70 to 11th-seeded Macon County.
In the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A regional semifinals (Sweet 16), the Central girls beat Jefferson Davis 62-40 to reach the region final (Elite Eight). The Red Devils (14-10) will play area rival Auburn (23-4) at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery 10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Leading the Red Devils were junior guard Alleya King (18 points), junior wing Eryn Johnson (12 points), junior point guard Sierra Roberts (11 points) and senior forward Bre Horace (9 points, 10 rebounds).
Central trailed 21-20 at halftime but blew out the Volunteers in the second half with a 23-9 third period and a 19-10 fourth period.
“We had outstanding defense,” said Central coach Carolyn Wright. “We played a full-court, harassing man from corner to corner. … We were pushing the ball more. We knew they were getting winded, so we just ran them the whole second half.”
This will be the fourth time Central has played Auburn this season. Central lost the three previous meetings: 59-54 Jan. 11 at home, then 53-38 Jan. 25 at Auburn and 57-46 Feb. 8 in the area championship game at Auburn.
The last time the Central girls reached the Elite Eight was two years ago, on their way to the 2017 Final Four, where they lost in the state semifinals. Last year, the Red Devils lost to Lee-Montgomery in the Sweet 16.
“They grew up a little bit,” Wright said of her Red Devils. “. . . They’ve gotten better down the stretch. I see a big difference in their attitude and their work ethic.”
In the Class 7A regional semifinals (Sweet 16), the Central boys lost 78-67 in overtime to Enterprise, and the Smiths Station boys lost 91-50 to Lee-Montgomery.
In the 32-team Class 6A subregionals, the Russell County boys lost 60-42 to Helena.
In the Alabama Independent School Class AAA Elite Eight, the Glenwood girls lost 45-26 to Tuscaloosa, and the Glenwood boys lost 55-45 also to Tuscaloosa.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.