Quantasia Perry, seen here with the ball against Rockdale in the Region 2-AAAAAA Tournament, and the Alcovy girls basketball team open the state tournament at Hillgrove tonight. Staff photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
It’s state playoff time for nine county basketball teams as opening round games will be played in three classifications tonight and Saturday.
Five teams will host first round games, led by the area’s only region champion, the Newton girls. Thanks to Deandra Reed’s six 3-pointers, the Rams had no trouble with Luella in a 65-46 victory in the Region 2-AAAAAA championship game earlier this week. Newton will enter the state tournament, which it opens against Region 4 No. 4 North Cobb tonight at 6:00 pm, having won 13 consecutive games.
The Newton boys dropped a tight region final to Luella, but still secured a home playoff game. If the Rams are to advance to the round of 16, they’ll have to get past No. 3 seed Hillgrove, a state finalist a year ago.
“We will have to play very well to compete for a chance to advance. They are a not a typical three seed, that is for sure,” said Newton coach Rick Rasmussen, whose team will play after the girls game against North Cobb.
Despite stumbles in the Region 8-AAAA title games, both Eastside teams will host first-round games in Class AAAA, starting Saturday at 4:00 pm. The Eastside boys had an 18-game winning streak come screeching to a halt in an 88-67 loss to Johnson-Gainesville in the title game, but the Eagles, who host Region 6 No. 3 Grady, still remain on a short list of Class AAAA state title favorites.
It was a much closer girls final as Eastside lost a heartbreaker, 51-50 to Chestatee. The Eagles entertain Region 6-AAAA No. 3 Marist in the opening round.
Speaking of heartbreak, the Salem girls not only fell to Clarke Central in the Region 8-AAAAA championship game 38-35 to ruin its chances of consecutive league titles, but the Seminoles had a 21-game winning streak snapped in the process. Salem, which hosts Region 6-AAAAA No. 3 Mays tonight at 6:00 pm, will be hoping point guard Shay Tarver can recover from an ankle injury she suffered in the region quarterfinals (Tarver didn’t play in the semifinals against Loganville and was used sparingly in the loss to Clarke), and region player of the year Ayanna Mitchell continues to lead the way after averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds in three league tournament games.
The Salem boys came into the region tournament as a No. 7 seed, but upset No. 2 seed Heritage in the quarterfinals, and with better free throw shooting (the Seminoles missed 10 of their 11 attempts from the charity stripe) could’ve reversed a seven-point spread in a semifinal loss to No. 3 seed Apalachee. Salem bounced back in a big way by routing Gainesville in the third-place game and now will travel to Region 6-AAAAA runner-up Stephenson for a first-round game.
“The team we had (against Gainesville) was the team we envisioned at the beginning of the year,” said Salem coach Noah Harrell, whose team plays Saturday at 4:00 pm. “The good thing is that we’re playing our best ball going into the state tournament.”
Three Class AAAAAA girls teams will travel for opening round games. Alcovy is just 10-18 overall, but the Tigers defeated Rockdale in the Region 2-AAAAAA third-place game and as a reward will visit Region 4 runner-up Hillgrove and University of Georgia signee Mackenzie Engram tonight at 6:00 p.m.
Both Rockdale squads are No. 4 seeds and will be faced with the task of trying to knock off a region 4 champion.
The girls will play one of the state’s finest teams in McEachern. The Indians, who have lost just twice in 25 games and those setbacks came against non-Georgia teams in Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights, Illinois) and Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) back in late-November, are led by point guard Te’a Cooper, who has verbally committed to North Carolina, and undecided top prospect Caliya Robinson.
Rockdale’s boys, who come into the state tournament off a loss in the Region 2 consolation game to Lovejoy, will visit Pebblebrook.