The Carver High School boys and girls basketball teams have an opportunity for some rare achievements this week.
During the 73 years the Georgia High School Association has conducted state championship for both genders in the sport, there have been 334 chances in all the classifications for schools to have their boys and girls basketball teams win titles the same year.
That has happened 18 times.
Friday, at the 2019 championships in the Macon Coliseum, the Carver Tigers will seek to join that double-title list. In the Class AAAA girls final, Carver girls will play Spalding at 11 a.m., followed by the Carver boys against Americus-Sumter at 1 p.m.
Even more rare is a Muscogee County School District basketball team winning a state championship. That has happened 10 times. MCSD boys basketball state titles have been won by Baker (1954, 1956), Carver (1971), Columbus (1944, 1962) and Jordan (1943, 2007). MCSD girls basketball state titles have been won by Columbus (2017) and Kendrick (2008, 2014).
So the Carver girls will be playing for their program’s first state championship, and the Carver boys will be playing for their program’s first one in 48 years.
According to this week’s MaxPreps rankings, No. 3 Carver (23-5) must defeat the top GHSA Class AAAA boys team to win the title.
No. 1 Americus-Sumter (26-4) was ranked No. 3 last week when it upset then-No. 2 Sandy Creek 63-56 in the semifinals. Carver was No. 4 when it beat No. 5 Woodward 58-50 in the other semifinal.
Carver, however, beat Americus-Sumter three of the four previous times these Region 1-AAAA rivals played each other this season, including the last three meetings.
Leading the Tigers in points per game are 5-foot-11 senior guard and Akron signee (for football as a cornerback) A.J. Watts with 21, 6-4 senior forward Jalen King with 14 and 6-2 senior guard Devin Flowers with 13. They were the only Tigers who scored in Saturday’s semifinal win over Woodward: Watts 28 points, King 21 and Flowers 9.
Watts also is averaging 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals per game. King also is averaging 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. Flowers also is averaging 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals per game.
Leading the Americus-Sumter Panthers in points per game are 6-foot-7 senior swingman Joshua Lusane with 17 and 6-1 junior guard Trae Brown with 13.
Carver boys coach Warren Beaulah shook his head and smiled when asked about playing Americus-Sumter for the fifth time this season.
“We know how good they are,” he said. “But, on the other hand, they know that we’re pretty good too. The scary part is that old saying: ‘It’s hard to beat a good team three times.’ Now, we have to beat this team four times to reach our ultimate goal.”
Beaulah praised Lusane’s skills.
“He can shoot the 3,” Beaulah said. “He can post you up. He’s an outstanding offensive rebounder. We’ve got to figure out a way to slow him down.”
King will be the Tiger most responsible for guarding Lusane.
“If we play good defense,” King said, “we’ll win the game. … I know they’re going to come with their heart, and we’re going to come out the same way. We’ve just got to play hard and smart with our defense and our offense.”
As for Brown, Beaulah said, “We’re going to have to limit his catches.”
While the Tigers like to play fast, the Panthers prefer a slower pace.
“They are a pretty patient team,” Beaulah said.
Despite beating the Panthers three out of four games this season, the Tigers are behind them in the MaxPreps rankings. Beaulah has ensured his players are aware of that discrepancy.
“I mentioned it several times,” Beaulah said with a laugh. “… That’s some kind of motivator.”
Carver lost to St. Pius X in the Elite Eight the past two years. This year’s squad has improved, said King, who is considering scholarship offers from Andrew College and Huntingdon College.
“We’re communicating better,” King said. “We’re just coming together as one team, like brothers.”
And that means having more than three players score.
“We’re going to have to share the ball,” King said.
With both Carver teams preparing for title games, King said, the anticipation at school this week has been fun.
“If we win, we’ll make some history,” King said. “It would be like a legacy for Carver High School.”
The per game statistical leaders for the undefeated Carver girls (31-0) are 6-foot-3 junior center Olivia Cochran (27 points, 16 rebounds, 8 blocks) — among the nation’s elite recruits in the Class of 2020 — 5-6 senior point guard and Columbus State signee Janya Love-Hill (13 points, 6 steals, 5 assists), 5-11 sophomore guard/forward Kionna Gaines (11 points, 6 rebounds) and 6-foot senior forward and West Georgia signee Jailyn Shaw (8 points, 13 rebounds).
Shaw is one of the Tigers who have reached the GHSA Class AAAA girls Final Four for the third straight year. She senses this team has the missing quality to win the championship this time.
“This year, we don’t have that many attitudes,” she said. “We play as one. We’re bonding on and off the court.”
Carver head coach Anson Hundley expects his players to be poised to bring home the program’s first state title.
“We want to be the first team to do it,” Hundley said. “The work that we put in and the time that we put in, it’s always good to see it pay off. You get a chance to be a part of something special.”
Making it even more special, the Carver boys will play for a state title immediately after the girls.
“We’re very big supporters of each other,” Hundley said. “So for us to have a chance for both win a championship, it’s just amazing.”
After losing the 2017 final to in-town rival Columbus in overtime, the Tigers fell in last year’s state semifinals 58-51 to Spalding, which went on to win the title. That loss still irks the Tigers, especially because they think they didn’t play their best.
“They did certain things in the game, and we picked up on them too late,” Shaw said. “One of their post players, she was a really good ball-handler, and we didn’t push up enough on her. So this year, we have to push up more.”
Shaw added, “I think it was just nerves. The previous year, we went to (the state final), and we wanted to get back. … So we played entirely too fast. We were playing wild instead of fast and in control.”
“Ultimately, we made too many mistakes as a team,” Hundley said. “Turnovers, missed shots, missed layups, we didn’t play as good as we had been playing all year. But it’s no knock on them. They were a great team last year, and they’re a great team this year.”
The key against Spalding for the Tigers, Hundley said, will be “staying disciplined to who we are and doing what we do. They’re a good team, well-coached, very athletic, and they’ve won a championship, so they know what it feels like. And they beat us, so they know what that feels like.”
That high level for Carver, No. 2 in this week’s MaxPreps GHSA Class AAAA girls basketball rankings, means fast-break offense and full-court pressure defense.
“If we play how we’re supposed it, if we keep our speed up, they’ll get tired faster and have to go to their bench,” Shaw said.
Saturday night’s 74-70 semifinal victory over No. 3 Flowery Branch, which had upset No. 1 Henry County 57-50 in the quarterfinals, was only the second time the undefeated Tigers didn’t win by double digits this season. In retrospect, Hundley is glad they had a close game before they face Spalding in the final.
“We needed that,” he said. “It made us understand the energy of what it takes to finish a game, because a lot of times the older girls have been sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.”
“Knowing you can beat teams by the very minimum, you know you can beat any team,” she said. “You’re going to blow some teams out, but some teams are going to be tight. They might stay on pace with you, so you just have to stay calm and play hard.”
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.