The 16 Georgia High School Association 2019 boys and girls basketball state tournaments have reached their Final Fours. Three of those teams are from the Columbus area, including two from one school.
In the Class AAAA boys quarterfinals (Elite Eight), Region 1 first seed Carver won 72-47 at home Wednesday against Region 5 second seed Cartersville.
The Carver boys will play 8 p.m. Saturday at Fort Valley State University in the semifinals against Region 4 first seed Woodward.
In the Class AAAA girls quarterfinals, Region 1 first seed Carver remained undefeated with a 71-43 victory Wednesday at Region 6 first seed Heritage-Catoosa.
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The Carver girls will play 6 p.m. Saturday at Fort Valley State University in the semifinals against Region 7 first seed Flowery Branch.
In the Class A public girls quarterfinals, fourth-seeded Marion County won 56-51 at home Wednesday against fifth-seeded Wheeler County.
The Marion girls will play 2 p.m. Saturday at Valdosta State University in the semifinals against eighth-seeded Clinch County.
This is the first time in 11 years a Carver boys basketball team has reached the Final Four.
“My guys are in hog heaven now, just euphoric,” said Carver head coach Warren Beaulah.
The 2008 squad advanced to the championship game before losing 64-57 to Glenn Hills. The program’s lone GHSA state title came 48 years ago.
Leading the Tigers on Wednesday night were senior guard A.J. Watts (23 points), senior forward Jalen King (13 points), senior guard Devin Flowers (11 points) and junior forward Ja’cyais Credle (11 rebounds).
With a 13-point lead at halftime, Beaulah urged his Tigers to not let up. “I told them we’ve owned the third quarter,” he said, “and we did it once again.”
Indeed, the Tigers dominated the third quarter 20-8, and the outcome was never in doubt again.
With eight seniors on Carver’s 14-player roster, Beaulah said, “you have so many who’ve been playing together and trust each other and believe in each other. It’s a chemistry you really can’t teach. They just continue to get better.”
The Tigers (23-5) are No. 4 in the MaxPreps Class AAAA boys rankings. They have won seven straight games since their 77-55 loss Jan. 22 at No. 12 Westover. Each of their three state tournament wins this year have been at home, and the closest margin has been 15 points.
“Everyone has stepped their game up,” Beaulah said. “It looks like we’re coming together at the right time.”
Compared to the program’s last Final Four team, he said, the 2008 squad was bigger and more physical, “but this team gets up and down the court more.”
If the Tigers beat No. 5 Woodward on Saturday, they will play in the Class AAAA boys championship game 1 p.m. March 8 at the Macon Coliseum against No. 2 Sandy Creek (the Region 5 first seed) or No. 3 Americus-Sumter (the Region 1 second seed).
No. 1 St. Pius X (the Region 8 first seed) lost in the quarterfinals at home to Americus-Sumter 63-48.
This is the third straight year the Carver girls have reached the Class AAAA Final Four.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Carver head coach Anson Hundley. “The girls have worked extremely hard to get here. I’m excited. They’re excited.”
Leading the Tigers on Wednesday night were junior center Olivia Cochran (21 points), senior point guard Janya Love-Hill (16 points), sophomore guard Kionna Gaines (13 points) and junior guard Malasia Howard (11 points).
After playing the first two rounds of this year’s state tournament at home, the Tigers had to bus 3½ hours to play at Heritage, but the travel didn’t appear to bother them as they overwhelmed Heritage with their full-court press.
“Defensively, we took them out of their comfort zone,” Hundley said. “We made them run. They took bad shots instead of getting into their offense. We change the way teams want to play.”
The way his Tigers performed in this long-distance road didn’t surprise Hundley.
“They have a goal in mind,” he said. “We can’t let anything affect us. If there are bumps in the road, we just understand, for us to get what we want, we have to go through whatever it is.”
The program never has won a GHSA state championship. The Tigers came close the past two seasons.
In 2016, they edged Cross Creek 60-56 in the semifinals at Augusta University, then were nipped in the championship game by in-town rival Columbus 68-67 at Georgia Tech. In 2017, they lost 58-51 in the semifinals to eventual champion Spalding at Fort Valley.
This year, Hundley said, his Tigers “really believe in the philosophy of what we do. … They just have a different drive.”
Their 30-0 record certainly is evidence. And so is this: Their only final score that wasn’t a double-digit victory came Dec. 22 against Bishop O’Connell of Arlington, Va., a 48-46 win in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
But the Class AAAA girls rankings, according to MaxPreps, have Carver at No. 2 and Henry County (28-3) at No. 1. Henry County (the Region 4 first seed), however, lost 57-50 in the quarterfinals at No. 3 Flowery Branch (the Region 7 first seed).
If the Tigers beat Flowery Branch, they will play in the Class AAAA girls championship game 11 a.m. March 8 at the Macon Coliseum against No. 4 Spalding (the Region 2 first seed) or No. 7 Luella (the Region 4 second seed).
Marion County girls
With senior twin forwards Ansley and Ashley Whitley in early foul trouble Wednesday against Wheeler, the Eagles were back on their heels and trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half. But they cut the deficit to a manageable four points by halftime.
Marion head coach Fran McPherson recalled telling her players, “We’re not even playing good, and we’re only down to baskets.”
McPherson encouraged the Eagles to “keep chipping away” — and they did.
“We believed we could do it,” she said. “We got the lead, and the tide turned. Wheeler never gave up. Their guards just were shooting the lights out. It was what you would expect from an Elite Eight game. But our guards made shots when they needed. They took care of the ball, and they got it to the post players.”
Leading the Eagles were Ansley Whitley (20 points, 13 rebounds), junior point guard Jameshia Williams (15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals) and Ashley Whitley (12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks).
The Eagles also impressed McPherson with their aggressive defense, compiling 22 deflections.
“That was one of our points of emphasis,” she said. “… They trusted and believed in the process of what I asked them to do. They fought and battled and made their own breaks.”
This is the second straight trip to the Class A girls Final Four for the program, which never has won a GHSA state title. Last year, the Eagles beat Terrell County 45-40 in the semifinals at Valdosta State, then lost 73-52 to Greenville in the championship game at the Macon Coliseum.
Ranked at No. 4 in the MaxPreps Class A girls rankings, the only loss this season for Marion (26-1) was in the region championship game, 70-64, to No. 6 Greenville. No. 17 Clinch County (the eighth seed), however, upset first-seeded Greenville 69-60 in the state quarterfinals.
If the Eagles beat Clinch County, they will play 6 p.m. March 6 at the Macon Coliseum in the Class A public girls championship game against No. 11 Telfair County (seeded second) or No. 16 Calhoun County (seeded third).
In the Class A public boys quarterfinals (Elite Eight), fourth-seeded Marion County lost 92-84 at home Wednesday to fifth-seeded Wilkinson County.
In the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association Division I-AA semifinals (Final Four), the Calvary Christian boys lost 68-58 Friday to Lanier Christian at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon. Darius Durham led the Knights with 25 points.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.