Class AAAAA semifinal report from Fort Valley

Miller Grove is coming back to the area for a state championship game.

Against Warner Robins.

The two will play Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Macon Coliseum for the Class AAAAA boys title.

A pair of neighbors will go at it in the Class 5A girls game, with less than a half hour separating perennial title contender Buford and Flowery Branch.

BOYS

Warner Robins 77, Clarke Central 57: His team led by three after a quarter.

And Nelson Phillips found the next gear, and his team was up by five times that amount a quarter later.

Georgia State signee Nelson Phillips scored 14 of Warner Robins’ 23 second-quarter points to lead the way in the Demons’ win and chance to play for a state title less than 30 minutes from home.

Warner Robins will face Miller Grove, whose streak of state championship was broken in 2015 by the Demons in the quarterfinal round.

“Man, the level, it’s already shaking at the top,” Warner Robins head coach Jamaal Garman said of playing Miller Grove. “It can’t go any higher. I’m already thinking about that one. There’s no 24-hour rule tonight. Straight we’re on Miller Grove, that’s our mindset right now.”

Phillips had four points in the first quarter, the Demons (27-3) sparked by Jam’l Dillard’s turnaround to get on a 9-3 run and get a little momentum.

The Gladiators kept up, though, and trailed 15-12 after one.

Warner Robins was active underneath, keeping misses alive galore in the second quarter, turning some extra chances into points.

The margin was six with 4:07 left in the half when Phillips got rolling.

He went 6 for 7 from the line on three consecutive possessions while the Gladiators went scoreless, and the lead grew to 29-17.

After a two-possession lull, Warner Robins closed out the half nine points in the final 1:19, six from Phillips and a 3 from Trevon Williams off an inbounds pass.

That made it 38-23 at halftime, but it only got worse for the Gladiators in their first Final Four trip in school history.

The Demons were sizzling in a display late in the quarter with a long 3 from Trevon Williams, a power dunk by Phillips on an underhanded lob from Jacolbey Owens, who then scored on a left-handed layup.

A last-second score by Mijah Campbell broke the streak, but the Demons led 55-36 entering the fourth, with plenty of momentum.

Clarke Central fought back impressively, sparked by two dunks by Campbell on sweet passes, and cut it to 61-52 with 3:31 left.

“Just calm down,” Garman said of the discussion in fourth-quarter timeouts. “Calm down. Stop trying to do too much. Just line up and play ‘em man to man.”

The single-digit margin lasted less than half a minute before Phillips answered with a reverse right-handed layup, and then Williams hit another 3 for a 66-52 lead with 2:55 remaining.

Phillips finished with 32, Williams with 13 and Jaydon Norman with 12.

D’won Smith topped the Gladiators (25-7) with 15, Jaron Washington adding 14 and Campbell 12.

Miller Grove 54, Hiram 41: There was more sloppy play than sharp play from both teams.

And that didn’t really help underdog Hiram at all, as it turned out.

“I think that’s what they wanted,” Miller Grove head coach Rasul Chester said of Hiram. “They wanted that grinding battle.”

Which is fine with Chester. 

“Just a different type of style,” he said. “We’ve seen all styles of play. We’re used to that.”

The Wolverines (23-7) advanced to their eighth championship game in 12 years. A team that prevented them from a seventh straight state title, in 2015, is Warner Robins, the championship opponent. Miller Grove was eliminated by Cedar Shoals 59-38 in a semifinal last year.

Chester cited the older guys for keeping the Wolverines focused.

“The leadership of my senior class, they just lead,” he said. “They know at Miller Grove, the thing is all about championships. They don’t want it to be the year without getting a championship.

“And they get a chance to finish our goal.”

Miller Grove led from the start on Timothy Stargell Jr.’s 3, and was up 12-7 after one. The lead hit double digits for the first time on a hop-step drive from Maurice Harvey with 1:20 left in the second quarter en route to a 31-17 halftime lead.

The Wolverines stayed in control in the third quarter and took a 17-point lead into the fourth. Hiram kept battling and did get it to 10 inside the final minute.

Maurice Harvey led the Wolverines with 11 points, while Stargell and Terrence Edwards added 10 each, targell with five assists.

Darius Johnson had 11 for 23-10 Hiram, which came in averaging 52.2 points a game.

GIRLS

Flowery Branch 72, Harris County 55: There were two SEC signees in the game. One has probably gotten a little less attention than the other one.

No more.

Alabama-bound Taniyah Worth overcame early foul trouble and was dominant in a huge third quarter as Flowery Branch stormed into control after trailing 23-8 early in the second quarter.

Harris County (28-3)) stopped doing most of what it did to get that lead, and Flowery Branch (26-6) turned things around to get out of the hole.

In the final 3:55 of the second quarter, Flowery Branch outscored Harris County 12-4 to pull even at 35 at the break.

Harris County’s troubles grew along with Flowery Branch’s proficiency.

The Tigers couldn’t score, or stop the Falcons, who got points on four of their first six possessions of the third, while Harris County came up empty on seven straight trips, getting its only bucket of the quarter with 1:42 left.

Flowery Branch carried a 49-37 lead into the fourth and kept a double-digit lead.

Worth, a lean, slashing 6-1 guard, finished with 20 points, all in the second half because of foul trouble. In the quarterfinal win, she had 34 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.

Caroline Wysocki bruised Harris County with 26 points, while Ashley Woodruff chipped in 16.

Mississippi State-bound Jessika Carter, a 6-5 forward, led Harris County with 24 points, and Taziaha Fanning had 17.

Buford 60, Villa Rica 46: Being able to win any kind of game in any different location is how you reach a state championship game in eight out of 10 years.

And that’s Buford.

“You’re going to have some grind games,” Buford head coach Gene Durden said. “And this was another grind game. I was happy about the way our kids kept their composure and grinded it out.”

The Wildcats stayed with the Wolves and avoided letting slumps linger against the championship-experienced program.

Buford led 14-13 after one and it was tied at 29 at halftime, the Wolves going scoreless the final 2:30 and the Wildcats finishing with a 7-0 run.

“I thought it was a weird game,” Durden said, “because the first half, we got a lot of tips on the ball, and some other things, the hand on the ball.

“It ended up bouncing right to them, and they’d throw it and get an easy two points.”

That started changing, eventually, in the third quarter, after Villa Rica pulled to within 36-35 on Deasia Merrill’s bucket in the lane with 5:10 left in the quarter.

The trap started causing more problems for Villa Rica, which didn’t score again in the quarter, between turnovers and one-and-done possessions.

Buford (28-3) had the momentum, but still couldn’t put away Villa Rica, which ended the year at 26-2, the only other loss coming to Class AAAAA quarterfinalist Carrollton, a 45-43 loser to Harris County.

The Wildcats kept battling, down 42-35 entering the fourth. The margin did finally grow to double figures, but Villa Rica got it back down to single digits until the final two minutes.

Sharpshooter Audrey Weiner led Buford with 20 points, 15 coming on 3s, while Tory Ozment had 18 before fouling out.

Tee Windon’s 12 led Villa Rica, all-state forward Merrill being held to 8 a game after she blitzed Fayette County for 22 points and 17 rebounds.

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