Tourney Time: Local hoops teams enter state playoffs

By Zach Shugan

Whether they made it by finishing the regular season in the top four of their region’s standings or placing in the top four of their region’s tournament, 13 local basketball teams earned berths to the GHSA state playoffs.

Here are previews for every local team’s first-round game, which take place either Tuesday or Wednesday at the higher-seeded team’s school.

BOYS BASKETBALL
Class 7A

No. 1 Milton vs No. 4 Mill Creek

Milton (23-2) enters the 7A state tournament seeking redemption from a loss in the state semifinals a season ago. The Eagles enter this years tournament as the favorite to win it all, according to a recent podcast by Georgia high school hoops guru Kyle Sandy. The Eagles have held a No. 1 ranking in Class 7A from Sandy for most of the season, and MaxPreps has them ranked No. 10 in the nation.

As the top seed from Region 5-7A, the Eagles host the fourth seed from Reg. 8-7A, Mill Creek, in the first round of the tournament.

With five-star guards Bruce Thornton and Kanaan Carlyle and double-double machines Kendall Campbell and L.T. Overton, plus the sharpshooting senior Broc Bidwell, the Eagles should be too much to handle for Mill Creek, but anything can happen in the state tournament with teams fighting to keep their seasons alive.

If Milton wins, it would host the winner of two-seed Archer and three-seed Gainesville in the sweet sixteen.

No. 1 North Gwinnett vs No. 4 Roswell

Roswell (15-9) made the state playoffs for the fifth year in a row and seventh time since 2011.

First-team All-Region guard Jase McCullough drives the Hornets’ offense, and wing players Jackson Kemp (honorable mention) and Mason Kemp provide scoring from inside and out. Senior Michael Fitzgerald (honorable mention), a 6-foot-5 soon-to-be wide receiver at UMass, is a big presence in the paint.

Roswell has a tough test in the first round going on the road to one-seed North Gwinnett (19-7). The Bulldogs boast senior Brendan Rigsbee, an Alabama-Huntsville signee, and junior R.J. Godfrey, who holds offers from Georgia, Ole Miss and more.

The Hornets made the tournament as an at-large bid in 2020, meeting up with one-seed McEachern in the first round. McEachern won 68-43 and made it to the Final Four.

Class 6A

No. 1 Chattahoochee vs No. 4 Pope

The defending 6A state champions Chattahoochee (20-3) enter this year’s tournament as a one seed once again after defeating Centennial in the Reg. 7-6A championship.

The Cougars host four-seed Pope (16-12), a team they shared a region with for four years prior to this year’s realignment, in the first round of the state playoffs.

Senior guard A.J. White, a two-time Region Player of the Year and all-time leading scorer in Hooch history, has won a bevy of big games at this point in his career. Junior Jordan Brown, a first-team All-Region selection, had a standout performance in the Cougars’ win in the region championship. All-Region honorable mentions Keith Murray and Tomiwa Adetosoye might not garner as much attention, but they consistently contribute in all facets of the game.

If Chattahoochee can get past Pope, it will host the winner of two-seed Alexander and three-seed Buford in the sweet sixteen.

No. 2 Centennial vs No. 3 South Cobb

Centennial (21-4) makes its return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2015. The Knights will be a two seed in the tournament after falling to Chattahoochee, 57-50, in the region championship.

The Knights boast two first-team All-Region players in seniors Kyle Duncan and Logan Turner and two honorable mentions in senior K.J. Spooney and sophomore Mansir Williamson. That doesn’t include junior forward Wade Kahl, who posted a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in the region championship game, and senior Julian Nixon, a Tennesse football signee who provides great minutes off the bench.

Centennial hosts three-seed South Cobb (16-11) in the first round. The Knights are the favorites to win in this matchup, but South Cobb is no slouch. The Eagles play in Reg. 6-7A, which features two of the top teams in the state in Kell and Wheeler.

If Centennial wins, it would take on the winner of one-seed Douglas County and four-seed Winder-Barrow in the sweet sixteen. Douglas County enters the state playoffs ranked No. 4 in Class 6A. Centennial is ranked No. 8.

Class 5A

No. 2 Blessed Trinity vs No. 3 Lithia Springs

Blessed Trinity (18-8) made the state playoffs in its first year in Class 5A, finishing as the runner-up in Region 7 after losing a heartbreaker in overtime to Calhoun in the region championship game.

Blessed Trinity has a trio of standout senior guards in Jax Bouknight, Jonathan Franchi and Ben Hamacher.

Bouknight leads the way for the Titans. The two-time Region Player of the Year in two different regions signed to play Flagler after he graduates in May. Franchi, an All-Region honorable mention, and Ben Hamacher can get hot and light it up offensively any given night. And watch out for the Titans’ two sophomore big men, Brigham Rogers and Cole Weaver. When both are on the court at the same time, Blessed Trinity becomes one tough team to rebound against.

The Titans host a Lithia Springs that went 11-7 in the regular season, with two of those wins coming via forfeit. The Lions have played three games in the month of February and lost all three.

With a win over Lithia Springs, the Titans would advance to the sweet sixteen, where they’d play the winner of one-seed St. Pius X and four-seed Walnut Grove.

Class A Private

No. 1 Mount Pisgah vs No. 4 North Cobb Christian

Mount Pisgah (22-6) enters the state playoffs ranked No. 1 overall and the favorites to win it all in Class A Private, according to Kyle Sandy.

The Patriots have been a top 10 team all season, and they’ve backed it up on the court. Their roster is deep, and head coach Matt Hixenbaugh uses all the weapons at his disposal.

Mount Pisgah is led by senior guards JoJo Peterson, Chase Tucker and Nick Speros. Senior big man Nate Gordon holds it down in the paint, and senior wing Garrett Sutherland recently received an offer from Huntingdon College. Juniors Kasheem Grady and M.J. Winter have been key additions to this year’s team.

The Patriots defeated St. Francis in the region championship, earning a one seed in the Class A Private state tournament in in the first year with its new seeding format. The class ditched its power rankings system for seeding and now uses the same format the other seven classes use, with region champions earning a one seed, runner-ups earning a two seed and so on.

Mount Pisgah hosts North Cobb Christian (11-10), the four seed out of Region 7. This marks the third year in a row Mount Pisgah will host a first-round state playoff game.

The Patriots made it to the Final Four in 2020, meeting up and losing to St. Francis for the fourth time that season.

No. 2 St. Francis vs No. 3 Walker

St. Francis (13-9) nearly pulled a comeback from last to first after a tumultuous start to the 2020-21 season. The Knights battled back and made it to the region championship but fell to Mount Pisgah for the second time this season.

On top of that, the Knights might have lost their second-leading scorer Seth Hubbard to an injury. The junior guard took a hard fall in the second quarter of the region championship and didn’t return to the game. It hurts the Knights’ chances if he can’t go in the state tournament, but they still have senior Jusaun Holt, an Alabama signee who just won Region Player of the Year, and some key pieces around him in Kai Simmons, Drew Robinson and Toby Gaynes.

St. Francis will be a two seed in the state tournament, hosting three-seed Walker (13-9) in the first round. The Knights have played at home in their first state playoff game each of the nine years Class A Private has had its own postseason tournament.

If St. Francis defeats Walker, it would take on the winner of one-seed Tallulah Falls and four-seed Galloway in the sweet sixteen. The Knights have won back-to-back state titles and made it to the state championship game seven of the past eight seasons.

No. 2 Darlington vs No. 3 King’s Ridge

King’s Ridge (20-5) is back in the state playoffs for the first time since 2018 and first time under head coach Bob Martin.

The Tigers have already set a program record for wins in a season, so anything they accomplish at this point is added glory.

This year’s group is led by a pair of sophomore All-Region selections in Isaac Martin and Micah Hoover. Martin is a left-handed guard who shoots at a high percentage and can thread the needle to find teammates for easy baskets. Hoover is a dynamic big who can run the court and bounce near the rim. Around them is an arsenal of sharpshooters such as Liam Thomas, Carson Wolfel and more.

King’s Ridge will travel to Rome to take on two-seed Darlington (14-8) in the first round. If King’s Ridge wins, it would earn its first state playoff win in program history. The Tigers, who played their first season in the GHSA in 2010-11, made the state playoffs three years in a row from 2016-18 but lost in the first round each time.

GIRLS BASKETBALL
Class 7A

No. 2 Peachtree Ridge vs No. 3 Roswell

Roswell (10-11) finished third in the Reg. 5-7A standings to make the state playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

Roswell is one of three schools in the North Fulton area to have both its girls and boys basketball teams make the state playoffs, with the other two being Class A Private schools St. Francis and Mount Pisgah.

Roswell’s first-team All-Region guard Makala Torrence is back in the state tournament for one final run before graduating. Joining her is sophomore Maren Cline, a second-team All-Region selection, and honorable mention Lani Tibbetts.

Roswell will travel to Suwanee to take on Peachtree Ridge (15-6), the two seed out of Reg. 8-7A, in the first round. If the Hornets get past the Lions, they would play the winner of one-seed North Forsyth and four-seed Duluth in the sweet sixteen.

Roswell’s last state playoff win came in 2019, when the Hornets made it to the elite eight. Last year, the Hornets were eliminated by Pebblebrook in the first round.

Class 6A

No. 2 Sprayberry vs No. 3 Cambridge

Cambridge was the lone North Fulton school to make the state playoffs out of Reg. 7-6A, as Centennial, Chattahoochee and Johns Creek all lost in the first round of the region tournament.

Cambridge is back in the 6A state tournament for the second year in row after defeating Creekview in the region’s third-place game.

The Bears are led by two versatile first-team All-Region players. Senior Angelina Cofrancesco became the program’s all-time leading scorer earlier this month, and sophomore Jordynn Dudley has a chance to break that record by the time she graduates.

Cambridge will be on the road at Marietta’s Sprayberry (20-5) in the first round of this year’s state playofs. The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 7 in Class 6A. They finished 15-1 in region play, with their only loss coming at the hands of No. 5 Kell.

Last year, the Bears defeated Alexander in the first round but fell to Valdosta in the sweet sixteen.

Class A Private

No. 1 St. Francis vs No. 4 North Cobb Christian

St. Francis (18-4) is fresh off its 10th straight region title and ready to begin a run at its first state title since 2016.

The Knights cruised past Fellowship in the region championship game, winning by nearly 50 points. Co-Region Player of the Year Mia Moore, a future Mississippi State Bulldog, drives the charge for St. Francis, but the team is full of talented players. Erica Moon was a first-team All-Region selection, and Morgan Harper and Trynce Taylor made the All-Region second team.

St. Francis plays host to four-seed North Cobb Christian (9-6) in the first round of the state playoffs. If the Knights win, they would play the winner of two-seed Tallulah Falls and three-seed Wesleyan in the sweet sixteen.

No. 2 Fellowship vs No. 3 Darlington

Fellowship (9-7) returns to the state playoffs for the first time since 2018 after missing the tournament the previous two seasons.

Fellowship took down Mount Pisgah in the Reg. 6-A Private semifinals to earn a home game in the first round of the state playoffs. The Paladins will host Darlington (7-7), the three seed out of Region 7, in the first round.

For more on the Paladins, read here.

No. 2 Christian Heritage vs No. 3 Mount Pisgah

Mount Pisgah (8-6) will play in the GHSA state playoffs for the second year in a row and third time in program history after finishing third in Reg. 6-A Private.

Mount Pisgah earned a berth in the state tournament by finishing the regular season third out of five teams in the region standings. The Patriots went directly to the region semifinals, where they fell to Fellowship. In the third-place game, Mount Pisgah defeated Lakeview Academy, 58-46.

The Patriots are led by a highly-talented sophomore Monet Dance, the co-Region Player of the Year and first-ever NFSR Athlete of the Week. Dance averages over 30 points per game, and she can get those points in a variety of ways.

Mount Pisgah will travel to Dalton to play Christian Heritage (13-10) in the first round. A win over the Lions would be the Patriots’ first state playoff win in program history. They lost to Lakeview Academy in the first round in 2020 and to St. Francis in 2015, both times as the underdog.

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