The matchups for the Class A-Private finals are set. Wesleyan and Holy Innocents' will meet in the girls final at 2 p.m. on Friday and Greenforest Christian and Southwest Atlanta Christian will meet in the boys' final at 4 p.m. on the same day. Both games will be played at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.
Southwest Atlanta Christian boys 77, Lakeview Academy 74: Deaundrae Ballard scored a game-high 41 points for the Warriors, including 26 of the team’s 36 second-half points to carry them into the title game, where they’ll face a Greenforest team that has beat them twice this season by double-digits, including 67-55 in the Region 5-A championship on Feb. 11.
Greenforest also won 85-58 on Jan. 28.
“They beat us very handsomely the last two times and have beat several other teams by a lot,” Warriors coach Tony Robinson said. “I think it will be a different game this time. I think it will be a close game and I think we can pull it out.”
Ballard was by far the most talented player on the court. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound senior guard-forward and Florida commit was a threat as both a slasher and perimeter shooter, and Lakeview had no answer for his skillset.
His point total was a career high and was the difference in Southwest fending off a well-balanced effort from the Lions.
“I had to go hard every possession and take no plays off,” Ballard said. “I had to go hard at both ends.”
The game was tight throughout, with neither team building more than a nine-point lead, which the Warriors (23-8) briefly held late in the first half before a Tre Gober 3-point play with 24 seconds left closed the score to 41-35 heading into halftime.
The Lions (25-6) caught up to Southwest and took a 48-47 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter on Gober’s field goal. They would hold the lead until the final minute of the quarter, when Ballard closed with another four points to give the Warriors a 53-51 lead heading into the final quarter.
Ballard scored all 12 of the Warriors’ points in the third quarter.
“He wanted to carry the team on his back,” Robinson said. “He said to put the ball in his hands and he’ll take us home. He was going to carry the team, no matter what.”
Ballard tacked on 14 more points in the fourth quarter, including 4-for-4 free throw shooting in the game’s final 30 seconds to keep the Lions just out of reach.
Lakeview’s Evan Pitts went coast-to-coast for a layup with 1.6 seconds left to bring the score to its final margin, with the Warriors successfully inbounding the ball to Ballard to run out the remainder of the clock.
The Lions spread out their scoring between Gober (22 points), Drew Cottrell (18), Josh Randolph (11) and Pitts (10).
Holy Innocents’ girls 63, St. Francis 61: The No. 2-ranked Lady Golden Bears (29-2) edged the top-ranked Lady Knights (26-5), led by Kaila Hubbard, who scored 19 points, and Khayla Pointer (18) and Kennedy Suttle (12).
The Lady Golden Bears led for all but the first minute of the game and were ahead 58-49 when St. Francis made a final run, pulling to within 61-62 on Taja Cummings’ basket with 1:27 remaining. The Lady Knights had a chance to take the lead with 26.2 seconds left, but Kasiyahna Kushkituah missed the first free throw attempt on a 1-and-1, and Holy Innocents’ pulled down the rebound.
With 6.7 seconds remaining, Lady Golden Bears guard Patterson Williams hit one of two free throws to give Holy Innocents’ a 63-61 cushion. Cummings then dribbled through a full-court press but lost the ball out of bounds with 0.9 seconds left after crossing mid-court. Maya Dodson stepped in front of the ensuing Lady Golden Bears’ inbounds pass but couldn’t gain possession before the game clock expired.
The Lady Knights were led by Cummings (22 points) and Nichel Tampa (16).
Greenforest boys 86, St. Francis 56: The top-ranked Eagles took advantage of their superior height and athleticism to run away with the game early in the second half.
The Eagles (26-5) were led by 6-foot-10 senior Abayomi Iyiola (18 points), David Quimby (18, two 3-pointers), Justin Forrest (13) and 7-footer Ikey Obiagu (10), using an array of dunks to dazzle the crowd along with steady 3-point shooting.
Obiagu had two dunks, including a one-handed jam over two defenders in the third quarter, when Greenforest put the game away. Quimby also had a pair of dunks. The Eagles came out of halftime with a 45-30 lead and went on a 22-15 third-quarter run including a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute, bringing the score to 67-45 heading into the fourth quarter, where St. Francis never pulled any closer than 18 points.
The No. 4-ranked Knights (25-6) were at a size disadvantage but stayed in the game early with 3-point shooting, hitting eight in the first half to keep the Eagles' lead inside double digits until two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Chase Ellis (14 points), Ben Jones (12 on four 3-pointers) and Dwon Odom (10 points) led the Knights.
Wesleyan girls 77, Lakeview Academy 35: For the 16th time in 17 years, the Lady Wolves will play for a state championship. This was their 14th consecutive semifinals appearance, and if they win it all this year it will be a state-record 12 basketball titles for Lady Wolves coach Jan Azar.
Friday's championship game will feature mentor -- Azar -- against protege, as Lady Golden Bears first-year coach Nichole Dixon formerly served as an assistant under Azar at Wesleyan.
Also, this will be the third consecutive season the Lady Wolves and Lady Golden Bears will play for a state championship. They played each other in Class AA the previous two seasons, with Wesleyan winning in 2015 and Holy Innocents' winning its first-ever state title last year in then-coach Tony Watkins' last season with the program.
The Lady Wolves (27-4) coasted against Lakeview, with UConn commit and McDonald's All-American Mikayla Coombs scoring a game-high 28 points. Amaya Register added 15 points and Jameson Kavel had 10. They dominated the game from start to finish, opening on a 7-0 run and never looking back. They were up 21-5 after the first quarter, 46-18 at halftime and 63-25 after three quarters.
They controlled the game with a relentless full-court press and transition game, which beat the Lady Lions (26-5) from the inside and out. Wesleyan hit eight 3-pointers for the game.
Three-point shooting has been a strength of Lakeview Academy's all season, and nearly half of their points came from hitting six of them. But it became apparent early that this wouldn't be the Lady Lions' night, and frustrations boiled over with 1:03 remaining in the first half when Sadie Thrailkill was called for a flagrant foul for pushing Register to the ground as she attempted a layup.
Hanna Grogan was Lakeview's lone double-digit scorer with 13 points.