The Newton and Westlake girls qualified for the Class AAAAAAA championship game with semifinal wins at the Buford City Arena. Newton defeated McEachern 63-57 and Westlake beat North Forsyth 52-44. They will play for the championship on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Georgia Tech.
Norcross and Meadowcreek will meet for the fourth time in the boys championship. Norcross beat Newton 86-66 in one semifinal and Meadowcreek knocked off Grayson 57-52 in the other. They will meet for the state championship on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Georgia Tech. Norcross won the three previous meetings, two of them on last-second shots.
Newton 65, McEachern 57
Things didn’t look good at halftime for the Newton girls. Playing in their first Final Four since 1963 against the most successful team of the decade, the Rams found themselves trailing McEachern by 16 points.
With nothing to lose, Newton charged back and shocked McEachern 65-57, eliminating the defending state champions and ending their streak of titles at four.
“We’ve been talking about everybody knows Norcross, everybody knows McEachern, everybody knows Westlake,” Newton coach Tiffani Johnson said. “We’ve been putting in work for a long time. It’s nice to put our name up there so everybody knows who we are.”
Newton’s remarkable second half was sparked by its defense. After McEachern scored on its first possession of the second half – taking a 43-25 lead – the Indians didn’t scratch again until 2:36 left in the third quarter. By then the Newton offense had gotten in synch.
“(In the first half) we were getting mixed up on defense, not talking,” Johnson said. “Once we got that all organized and started taking it to the basket, once we saw a couple go in, that gave us a little confidence.”
Newton took the lead for the first time with 5:38 remaining on Lexi Chapman’s 3-pointer. The Rams never trailed again.
Newton (28-3) was led by Chapman with 20 and Jurnee Smith with 15. Erianna Card, who learned in the morning that her grandmother had died, scored eight.
McEachern (22-6) got 15 points from Jasmine Carson, but all came in the first half, and Alyssa Smith scored 14.
“I think at the beginning of the game the stage got us a little bit,” Johnson said. “At that point we had nothing to lose. We’ve been fighting all season and the girls never quit. We had to push through.”
Westlake 52, North Forsyth 44
No. 1-ranked Westlake used an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to put away North Forsyth, win its 18th straight game and get to the championship game for the first time.
The Lions (29-1) trailed 36-34 midway in the final quarter when they tied the game on a basket by Simone Lett and took the lead on a clutch 3-pointer from Anastasia Warren. Lett completed the run by scoring off a rebound and North Forsyth could not claw back.
“(The 3-pointer) made a big impact,” Warren said. “It got us going, because we hadn’t been making any shots. It kind of lifted our spirits.”
Warren led Westlake’s balanced attack with 13 points. Taylor Hosendove and Raven Johnson each scored 11.
North Forsyth (28-3) did a good job slowing the pace and preventing Westlake from getting any tempo going. But the Raiders may have lost it at the line, where they were 15 of 25. Catherine Shope led the Raiders with 17 points and Caroline Martin added 13.
Norcross 86, Newton 66
Norcross didn’t wilt when its double-digit lead was cut to five points in the third quarter and put away Newton, earning another trip to the state championship game.
Newton trimmed the Norcross lead to 46-41 with six minutes left in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils didn’t fret. They finished the quarter on a 15-7 run and were never threatened again.
“It was being able to look at the guys and say, ‘We know how to make a play. Let’s focus and cut through the noise and execute,’” Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said.
Norcross (28-3) was led by sophomore Brandon Boston with 23 points, Kyle Sturdivant with 21 points, Joseph Toppin with 15 points and 17 rebounds, and Kevon Eskridge, who came off the bench to score 17 points.
“(Eskridge) took a charge on Ashton Hagans at the end of the third quarter and I told him, take away all the 3s and all the rebounds he had and that was one of the biggest plays of the game,” McMillan said. “It got the third on him, sent him to the bench and he had to play a little more conservative.”
Hagans, considered by many to be the top college point guard recruit in the state, scored 13 points.
“We talked about how pretty much everything Newton wanted to do was based off Ashton Hagans and letting him facilitate for others and having a pretty heavy scoring load, as well,” McMillan said. “I thought we did a pretty good job after the first quarte.”
Newton (27-4) was led in scoring by DeAndrae Butler with 19 points. Tyrease Brown and Armani Harris each scored nine for the Rams.
The experience was telling for Norcross at the end. The Blue Devils played for the state championship last year and are perennial contenders for the title, which they last won in 2013.
“When you can put guys on the court like Dalvin (White) and Kyle (Sturdivant), who have been in the program for three or four years and have been on these stages before, it’s pretty simple,” McMillan said. “Get the ball to them and let them make a play.”
Meadowcreek 57, Grayson 52
Meadowcreek nearly wasted a seven-point lead in the final two minutes of the game, but held on to beat Grayson 57-52 and secure its first spot in the state championship game.
Grayson trailed by one point with 9.1 seconds left, but Nick Edwards was charged with an offense foul.
Meadowcreek’s Dequarius Nicholas made two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to put the Mustangs ahead by three. Meadowcreek then fouled Grayson’s D.J. Williams before he reached halfcourt. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but Meadowcreek’s Cecil James grabbed the rebound as time expired.
“We didn’t want to take a chance on a buzzer-beater anymore, even a halfcourt one,” Meadowcreek coach Curtis Gilleylen said. “We felt like our bigs would rebound at the end and we got a lucky bounce and got the ball.”
Meadowcreek lost two games to Norcross on buzz-beaters during the regular season.
Meadowcreek (24-6) got 18 points each from Cory Hightower and Jamir Chaplin and 10 points each from Amari Kelly and Nicholas.
Grayson (22-9) was led by Edwards with 25 and Travis Anderson with 13.
“This means a bunch,” Gilleylen said. “We’ve kind of been the forgot-about program for a while and now we’re making a statement, saying Meadowcreek athletics is a premier athletic program. And we want to win it all. We feel like we’ve got some unfinished business. We know our foe is going to be formidable, we know them very well, a very talented team, but we’ve got some talent in our locker room, as well.”