The Class AAA boys and girls basketball semifinals were played at Armstrong Atlantic on Saturday. Pace Academy and Morgan County advanced to play in the boys championship game at 4 p.m. on Thursday at Stegman Coliseum in Athens. Beach and Johnson-Savannah punched their tickets to play in Thursday's girls championship at 2 p.m.
Boys: Pace Academy 71, Liberty County 62
Duke-signee Wendell Carter Jr. and the Pace Academy Knights advanced to the Class AAA championship with a 71-62 victory over defending Class AAAA champions Liberty County Saturday at the Armstrong Atlantic Sports Complex.
Pace Academy pulled out to a quick lead 24-17 after the first quarter. The Knights, on the back of their 6-foot-10 center Carter, expanded their lead to 18 points midway through the second quarter and then Carter hit the bench and Liberty County mounted a comeback to get back in striking distance.
Liberty County junior guard Will Richardson, who scored 16 points in the first half, led the charge and made it a nine-point game at halftime, 39-30.
"Wendell was on the bench and I expected them to have a little run but we did not handle it very well," said Pace Academy head coach Demetrius Smith. "But in the end, you go into the half up nine, you have to take it. And when you have (Carter) you can come back from any little run. ...I felt like we had control even when we had some adversity against us."
Pace Academy pushed the lead to 51-40 at the end of the third quarter before Liberty made another push and trimmed the lead to 59-55 with 3:35 left in the game. Carter finished with 32 points and Isaiah Kelly added 20 points for the Knights. Richardson led Liberty with 28 points, while Davion Mitchell added 19.
Boys: Morgan County 69, Calhoun 61
The Bulldogs won their 13th straight game and made it back to the state title game for the fourth straight season. Calhoun lost for the first time in 12 games.
Morgan held a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter, 15-14, and increased the lead to five with a 6-0 run to end the second quarter. Calhoun then got going on the back of guard Chapin Rierson.
Opening the second half, Rierson and Calhoun mounted a 10-2 run to take a 33-31 lead with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter. The back and forth nature of the game was familiar to Morgan County coach Jamond Sims.
"It was another one of those, any time you get to the final four, one of those hard fought, grind-it-out kind of games," he said.
Morgan has only three seniors on the team and added Sims, "I think our guys are starting to grow up and mature a little bit. Especially being so young. So we are just looking forward to the challenge to see if we can get back to playing well in the championship game."
With six minutes left in the game and the score tied at 47, it did not take long for Morgan County to grab the momentum. By 2:31, the Bulldogs increased the lead to 61-49.
Morgan County had four players in double figures; Tyrin Lawrence had 22 points, Alec Woodard and Anthony Cooper both had 13 and Damarian Thomas added 10 points.
Calhoun was paced by Rierson, who led with 26 points, Rhett Abernathy had 18 and Davis Allen scored 11 points.
Girls: Beach 56, Greater Atlanta Christian 47 (OT)
The Beach Lady Bulldogs punched their ticket to the championship game at the Stegeman Coliseum at the University of Georgia by defeating Greater Atlanta Christian 56-47 in overtime of the Class AAA semifinal game at Armstrong Atlantic in Savannah.
GAC led 46-45 with 1:22 remaining and by 1:02 the game was tied at 46 where it remained until the end of regulation. The Bulldogs made the most of the extra time, outscoring GAC 10-1 to put the game away.
Beach was led by Judasia Hills' 22 points and 15 rebounds. Jabrekia Bass added 11 points and 11 rebounds and Tatiyanna Morris netted 11 points. The Spartans were led by Robyn Benton's 15 points and a 12-point effort from Taylor Sutton.
Girls: Johnson-Savannah 48, Morgan County 39
The Atomsmashers of Johnson will face the Beach Bulldogs in the Class AAA championship game after decisively moving past Morgan County in the semifinals. It will be the first championship appearance for Johnson.
Johnson seized control early with a 13-6 lead after the first quarter. Morgan County, the defending state champions, outscored Johnson 16-12 in the second quarter and trailed by just three points at the half (25-22).
By the end of the third quarter, Johnson increased the lead to 36-27, and comfortably led 41-32 with 3:28 left. The Lady Atomsmashers were led by Alexis Pierce who scored 16 points. Pierce is averaging 18 points per game this season. Sy'Marieona Williams, who averages 16 points per game, added nine. J'Mya Cutter scored eight, a bit shy of her 16 point average. Tatyana Davis led Morgan County with 14 points.