By Craig Sager II
The Class A-Public and Class AAAA championships were held Thursday in Macon. The Gordon Lee girls, Wilkinson County boys, Columbia girls and Eagle’s Landing boys all came away with state titles.
Read Craig Sager II’s recaps of all four games below, as he was in Macon all day covering the action.
Class AAAA Boys
Columbia had a chance to make history with a win over Eagle’s Landing. It would have been a fourth straight championship and because the girls team pulled off a last-second win in the slot before, Columbia would have been the first ever program with a back to back sweep of girls and boys. The combination of size and athleticism that Eagle’s Landing runs with was just too much for history to be made, and nothing came easy all night.
When it comes to driving point guards, Columbia’s Tahj Shamsid-Deen is as athletic as they come. The 5-foot-9 senior hangs in the air and makes a living off of his acrobatics, not to mention his teams at Columbia had won three straight titles heading into the contest. Deen profiting inside Eagle’s Landing’s gauntlet of big men would not be fruitful. Deen finished with a game high 21 points, but had to take the punishment every drive on his 9-for-26 night.
The victorious Golden Eagles blocked a total of 11 shots and established their defensive footing early. Columbia scored just 19 points in the first half off of 9-for-33 shooting and had seven shots blocked. Desmond Ring was the bully in the paint and the 6-foot-10 South Carolina commit finished with a 17-point championship performance off of 8-for-9 shooting, and added 14 rebounds and six rejections.
The Eagle’s Landing offense never had to force anything with such a reliable defense resisting Columbia’s attack. Kerry Sandifer’s Eagles tried to make a stand in the second half, but as soon as they brought the lead within five points, Isaiah Dennis helped pick up the pace and Eagle’s Landing jumped to an 8-2 run. Dennis finished with 17 points off 6-for-12 shooting, and scored 13 in the second half.
Both teams shot poorly from beyond the arc and that would be a clear advantage to the bigger, stronger Eagle’s Landing team. Columbia was 1-for-11 and Eagle’s Landing was 1-for-12 from deep. The offense would slow it down without Columbia being able to set pace, and Ringer was too dominant. Chris Davenport had a big impact in the game and chipped in nine points, nine boards and a pair of blocks. Coach Clay Crump and his Eagle’s finish the season 24-4. Their obvious size advantage made them a target all season and Thursday night they proved they were Georgia’s elite AAAA team.
Class AAAA Girls
Columbia 38, Sandy Creek 37
Columbia captured a third title in four years thanks to a game-winning shot by senior Shaundricka Mann. The Eagles led the entire game until Sandy Creek’s Jasmine Jones hit a big pullup jumper for the Patriots’ first lead of the game with just 2:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing inbounds play, Columbia’s Yaktavia Hickson was called for the travel and a minute later Hickson had fouled out. The momentum was in favor of Sandy Creek and it was going to take a big play to get it back.
Columbia’s defense won the battle against the Sandy Creek offense all game until the final quarter. They played a man-to-man defense that never let up. Hickson and senior Miah Spencer took on whatever Patriot was brave enough to bring the ball up the court and forced Recee Walker into 11 turnovers. Sandy Creek would not reach double digits on the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter after Columbia led 13-9 at the half.
Seemingly all of the drama was saved for a big fourth quarter, and after scoring just 17 points through the first three periods, Sandy Creek scored 20 in the fourth. Jones was the spark and hit back-to-back three pointers and an old-fashion three-point play in the quarter. Jones shot 7-for-13 from the field and finished with a game-high 17 points. The defensive power for Sandy Creek was generated by Safiya Martin, who kept the Patriots in the game when the offense was struggling. The Patriots shot just 4-for-19 in the opening half, but despite the misses and the Eagles’ attempts to score in transition, Martin was there to protect the goal.
Hickson opened the Eagles back up for business and hit Columbia’s first field goal of the third quarter with just 2:40 remaining. Her aggressive offense matched her shutdown defense and helped contribute to the 20 total donations Sandy Creek provided the Eagles. When Hickson picked up a fourth foul with 1:59 left in the third quarter, Walker, who was struggling getting around Hickson, knew she would get to play a little looser with the high fouls and the 20-point Patriots’ fourth quarter reflected that.
In the final quarter, Courtney Street hit a big shot to get the Patriots up 28-26, and on the following inbounds play, the inbounder stepped on the line to give it right back to Sandy Creek. The teams would trade turnovers and free throws and eventually the game came down to a Columbia inbounds play with just 17.7 seconds left, trailing 37-35. Mann got the ball at the top of the key and took it straight to the rim, drawing the foul. Mann swished the first shot to pull her Eagles within one, but on the game-tying attempt missed wide. The offensive rebound was secured by Spencer and kicked out to Shamyiah Smith, who was short on the three-point attempt. After missing the game-tying free throw attempt, Mann came crashing in with time expiring and tipped in the game-winning shot.
This was a heartbreaking loss for Sandy Creek, who battled through the nasty Eagles defense.
“It was all heart,” said Mann on the championship podium.
The Eagles needed to find a big shot with the championship on the line and the senior game through.
Class A-Public Boys
Wilkinson County 53, Wilcox County 49
Wilkinson County won a sixth state championship and the program’s second state title in three years with a victory over Wilcox County. The Warriors were able to answer any Wilcox County flicker by recapturing the lead time and again. Despite the game’s 10 lead changes, the Warriors had the advantage after every quarter. Wilkinson County sophomore Torrico Simmons made his championship debut one to remember and came out with confidence and no hesitation. Simmons had 11 points in the opening half and was keeping Wilkinson County afloat while they struggled, shooting just 2-for-11 from 3-point range. Simmons and senior teammate Fred Green heated up in the second half and helped Wilkinson County go 8-for-16 from downtown in the second half.
Simmons finished with a game-high 20 points, matched only by the Patriots’ Makail Grace. While the sharpshooting in the second half was the script for the victory, it was a consistent rebounding effort in the first half that kept Wilkinson in position to win. Despite being undersized, the Warriors out-rebounded the Patriots 36-23 in the first half. Italio Jones had 10 rebounds and battled with Patriots’ star Jonathan Howard. Howard is going to UNC on a football scholarship and had been dominating in the state tournament with a 23-point game in the semifinals. Wilkinson held him in check, forcing a subpar 2-for-12 performance from the field, resulting in just nine points to go with his more impressive 16 rebounds. Howard was frustrated all game and had to sit in the fourth quarter after picking up a fourth foul. Grace was outstanding in the disappointing loss and had 14 rebounds with his 20 points to notch a double-double.
Late in the fourth quarter with the game up for grabs, Simmons and Green both hit big shots, and with under a minute left there was still a question as to whether the Warriors could hold on. The Warriors shot an abysmal 1-for-11 from the foul line to that point in the game. Simmons was fouled with a one-point lead, but swished both attempts with 20 seconds remaining. With a three-point Warriors’ lead, Antonio Whipple came down with the biggest rebound of the game to stamp the win. Three missed Wilcox shots led to a mosh pit of rebounders and Whipple came out of the scrap. He would hit one of two that pushed the lead to two possessions. Wilkinson shot just 33.9 percent from the field, but forced 13 turnovers and made a hailstorm of clutch shots and big three pointers to win the program’s first title since 2011.
Class A-Public Girls
Gordon Lee 61, Randolph-Clay 56
The Gordon Lee Trojans dominated the opening three quarters and took a 50-30 lead into the fourth after Abbey Bohannon’s baseline buzzer beater ended the third. Senior point guard Kassidy Blevins was the difference maker in the Class A-Public girls championship, excelling in every phase. Gordon Lee often struggled to open quarters, but it was always Blevins who would make the play that got the Gordon Lee offense back on pace. To open the second half, she answered a 6-0 Randolph-Clay run with a behind-the-back dribble to shed a defender and then beat the double team with a through-the-legs dribble and to finish with a high floater off the glass over Randolph-Clay’s 6-foot-4 freshman Kobi Simmons, who blocked six shots on the game. Blevins was simply sensational.
The Red Devils tried to use a full-court press to slow down Blevins, but she was able to find Katie Barger, Taylor Hartline and Katelyn Lee, who all handled the pressure well. On the defensive side, the Trojans used a zone and were able to frustrate the Red Devils in the first half. Randolph-Clay’s Kaneika Washington had a game-high 26 points and did the majority of her damage in the third and fourth quarters. Simmons played an awe-inspiring game. When Gordon Lee was out running and dicing through the full-court press, Simmons was sprinting down the court to go after every shot, diving for loose balls and showing a type of effort that was beyond her years. Simmons finished with 14 rebounds, 13 points and six blocks and even blocked a the majority above the backboard.
In the start of the fourth quarter, Randolph-Clay made things interesting by igniting on a 13-2 run to cut the lead to single digits. Blevins continued playing at her top gear and finally ended the drought, helping Katelyn Lee score a valuable basket. Adriana Blackmon hit several big shots during the big fourth quarter and ended up with 13 points.
Blevins iced the game with two clutch free throws and finished with 21 points to add to her eight boards, three assists and four steals. The Samford commit protected the ball against the athletic Red Devils and put the final touches on a remarkable Trojan career with the title. Lee had 12 rebounds and eight points and, more importantly, was able to help fight the press by using her size to be the cutoff man. Lee had three big assists in the contest. Barger had a huge game with 14 points and knocked down two big three-pointers in the second quarter to widen the halftime lead. The game went their way and the battle-tested Trojans, who compete in the same region as Class A-Private’s two contenders Southwest Atlanta Christian and St. Francis, were able to earn the weekend’s first championship.