Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Repeat champion, first-time winner cap off Class AAAAAA season with titles


The Hughes boys basketball team captured its second consecutive state championship and the Lovejoy girls won the first title in program history when the Class AAAAAA season wrapped up with the finals on Friday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.

And while those two No. 1-ranked teams and their championship-game opponents – the No. 2 Gainesville boys and the No. 3 Harrison girls – were favorites to reach the finals, the two tournament brackets played out in significantly different fashions. 

The boys tournament was filled with upsets, beginning in the first round, when No. 4 Cambridge, No. 5 Stephenson, No. 8 Creekview and No. 10 South Cobb were eliminated. Two more ranked teams – No. 3 Brunswick and No. 7 Douglas County – were knocked out in the second round. That meant half the teams remaining in the quarterfinals were unranked heading into the tournament. Of those, Heritage-Conyers reached the semifinals before losing to Hughes. 

The girls tournament went much more as expected. Six of the eight quarterfinalists were ranked teams, and a seventh (No. 8 Tucker) would have been there had it not been removed from the tournament for violating the GHSA’s recruiting rules. The higher-seeded home teams went 22-2 in the first two rounds. No. 2 Winder-Barrow was the highest-ranked team that didn’t reach the semifinals, and its loss came against Lovejoy in overtime in the quarterfinals. 

Here’s a recap of each tournament: 

Boys 

Hughes trailed Gainesville 45-38 at halftime of the final but outscored the Red Elephants 27-14 in the third quarter and held on for an 85-78 victory, snapping Gainesville’s 21-game winning streak and denying the Red Elephants their first title since 1984. 

Landers Nolley, a Virginia Tech signee, had 34 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot in his final high school game. He also made 17 of 20 free-throw attempts. Tyler Smith added 17 points, and Tyrel Morgan scored 14. Gainesville had four players in double figures, led by Bailey Minor with 17 and Kajuan Hale with 15. 

“We knew if we kept the game close we’d have a chance,” Hughes coach Rory Welsh told the AJC’s Stan Awtrey. “We thought Gainesville is the best team in the state – hands down. But they hadn’t played a ton of close games this year. We figured if we kept it within striking distance and played our best basketball in the second half, we’d have a chance to win the game.” 

The Panthers finished the season 27-5 and lost only once to a Class AAAAAA team – 70-66 against Alexander on Jan. 9 in a game in which Nolley didn’t play. They won 14 of 15 the rest of the way, losing only to Class AAAAAAA Grayson, and took the regular-season and tournament titles in Region 5. 

Hughes became the first public school from Fulton County to win consecutive titles since Mays in 2004-05. The Panthers also capped off an impressive postseason for their region, which went 9-3 in the state tournament and put two teams (Tri-Cities was the other) in the quarterfinals. 

The Panthers will have three starters returning next season – guard Tyrel Morgan is a junior and point guard Patrick Carter Jr. and forward Josh Butts are sophomores. 

Girls 

Lovejoy trailed Harrison 36-34 entering the fourth quarter but opened the period with a 12-0 run and outscored the Hoyas 23-5 in the final eight minutes for a 57-41 victory in the championship game. Anaya Boyd scored 20 points and Genesis Bryant had 14 for the Wildcats, and Kayla Brown had eight points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots. 

Lovejoy completed an impressive run over the last three rounds of the playoffs, knocking out No. 2 Winder-Barrow, No. 4 Northview and No. 3 Harrison in consecutive rounds. 

“If you want to win it, you want to beat everybody, right? You don’t run from nobody,” Lovejoy coach Cedric King said. “You play what’s in front of you, you beat ’em, and you don’t worry about nothing else, if you know what I mean.” 

The Wildcats finished the season 32-1 and won 23 consecutive games after suffering their only loss, 56-53 against Stephenson on Dec. 16. They won the regular-season and tournament titles in Region 4. Lovejoy became just the third team from Clayton County to win a state title and the first since Morrow in 1993. Forest Park won a championship in 1970, and Morrow won in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993. 

Don’t expect the Wildcats to go away any time soon. Brown was the only senior on the team’s 12-player roster, which included eight players who were freshmen or sophomores, including Boyd and Bryant. 

Harrison will lose seven seniors from its roster, including all-region players Audrey Jordan, Harper Vick and Sarah Woghiren. Vick averaged 15 points in the semifinals and finals, and Woghiren led the Hoyas in scoring in the first three rounds. Jordan is a UAB signee. They were part of the most successful senior class in school history, reaching the quarterfinals in 2015 and finishing as state runner-up the past two seasons. 

Championship game statistics 

Statistics were provided by West Georgia Sports Information Services. 

Boys 

Hughes 85, Gainesville 78 

Gainesville (24-7) 

Bailey Minor 7-10 1-1 17, Kajuan Hale 4-9 6-11 15, KJ Buffen 4-9 4-4 13, Rafael Rubel 5-12 0-0 12, Xavier Bledson 3-10 0-2 7, Jarrel Rosser 2-3 2-5 6, Brent Kelly 2-3 0-0 5, Jarred Rosser 1-2 0-0 2, Griffin Neville 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 28-58 14-25 78. 

Hughes (27-5) 

Landers Nolley 8-15 17-20 34, Tyler Smith 8-10 0-0 17, Tyrel Morgan 6-12 2-4 14, Patrick Carter, Jr 2-5 1-2 7, Papa Samba 2-4 2-2 6, Josh Butts 2-5 1-2 5, Marcus Samuel 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 29-52 23-31 85. 

Gainesville – 21-24-14-19 – 78 

Hughes – 21-17-27-20 – 85 

3-point goals – Gainesville 8-23 (Bailey Minor 2-4, Rafael Rubel 2-7, Xavier Bledson 1-6, KJ Buffen 1-2, Kajuan Hale 1-3, Brent Kelly 1-1), Hughes 4-8 (Patrick Carter, Jr 2-2, Tyler Smith 1-1, Landers Nolley 1-5). Fouled out – Gainesville – Brent Kelly, KJ Buffen, Jarred Rosser, Hughes – Josh Butts. Rebounds – Gainesville 28 (Xavier Bledson 7), Hughes 34 (Landers Nolley 10). Assists – Gainesville 19 (Xavier Bledson 6), Hughes 19 (Landers Nolley 6). Total fouls – Gainesville 24, Hughes 21. Technical fouls – Gainesville – Brent Kelly, Jarrel Rosser, Hughes – None. 

Girls 

Lovejoy 57, Harrison 41 

Lovejoy (32-1) 

Anaya Boyd 5-11 9-13 20, Genesis Bryant 4-12 5-8 14, Avanna Preston 3-4 1-2 8, Kayla Brown 3-6 2-3 8, J'Aunna Preston 2-6 3-4 7, Asha Shareef 0-0 0-0 0, Kaziah Terrell 0-0 0-0 0, Mariah Spain 0-2 0-0 0, Lashanti Blunt 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-42 20-30 57. 

Harrison (26-5) 

Harper Vick 3-12 3-5 10, Sarah Woghiren 4-10 0-3 8, Amara Newsom 3-3 0-0 6, Eastyn King 3-6 0-0 6, Mae Williams 2-7 1-6 5, Audrey Jordan 1-3 2-4 4, Meredith Ward 1-3 0-0 2, Edith Gordon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-44 6-18 41. 

Lovejoy – 10-7-17-23 – 57 

Harrison – 10-9-17-5 – 41 

3-point goals – Lovejoy 3-8 (Genesis Bryant 1-4, Avanna Preston 1-1, Anaya Boyd 1-1, Mariah Spain 0-1, J'Aunna Preston 0-1), Harrison 1-11 (Harper Vick 1-4, Sarah Woghiren 0-3, Eastyn King 0-1, Mae Williams 0-1, Audrey Jordan 0-1, Meredith Ward 0-1). Fouled out – Lovejoy – None, Harrison – Audrey Jordan. Rebounds – Lovejoy 35 (Kayla Brown 13), Harrison 29 (Sarah Woghiren 7, Eastyn King 7). Assists – Lovejoy 8 (Genesis Bryant 4), Harrison 13 (Mae Williams 5). Total fouls – Lovejoy 17, Harrison 21. Technical fouls – Lovejoy – None, Harrison – None.


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