Sandy Creek sweeps way into Sweet Sixteen doubleheader
by Rob Grubbs
The girls and boys basketball teams from Sandy Creek have much in common. They are both disciplined, well-coached, athletic and excel at full court pressure defense. These attributes were on display as both teams opened the first round of the state basketball playoffs at home in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader. The Lady Patriots opened with the Blessed Trinity Titans (9-19), the four seed from Region 7-AAAA, who had almost pulled of an upset of eventual region champion Chestatee a week earlier, while the boys team would host the three seed White County Warriors from the North Georgia area.
It would be an overall productive evening for both teams as they both advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, using the first-round games to set their rotations for the tournament games ahead.
The Lady Patriots seemed to have early game rust from the seven-day layoff since their region championship win over LaGrange. Blessed Trinity guard Katie Hynekamp hit two 3-pointers early which opened up Emma Rogers to make a couple of back door cuts to the basket to give Blessed Trinity early momentum and keep the game close. The Titans had been employing a box and one zone defense to compensate for the significant athletic advantage that the Patriots held. Sandy Creek Head Coach Janie Hodges pushed the issue just one minute into the second quarter – she put the Lady Patriots offensive into a four-corner look with senior point guard Shan’Quaylia Stanton in possession of the ball up top. Blessed Trinity reluctantly switched to a straight man defense after about a minute, and Stanton was easily able to slice through the defense, cutting to the basket for layups and dishing off to Kasey Toles, who had found her range from the outside.
The second quarter would end in a blur of the Patriots dominating both facets of the game, with Daija Powell hustling to block an easy Titan layup with 35 seconds remaining and Stanton with a steal and quick basket inside of 10 seconds.
The Sandy Creek press was stifling in the second half – forcing numerous turnovers and mistakes which lead to easy points on the offensive end. Stanton was virtually unstoppable on offense and defense. She maneuvered through the Titan press with ease and never allowed an uncontested trip across the time line on defense. The Lady Titans had no answers. Meanwhile, Toles was providing the offense, not only with her outside shot but also off the dribble as the defense came out to defend her.
Coach Hodges was able to play the entire roster and get everyone involved in the action, culminating in a 59-28 win.
Toles lead the Lady Patriots with 21 points, and Stanton added 13 as ten players would end up scoring. While Toles and Stanton lead offensively, they spoke after the game about the defensive intensity their teammates brought, specifically acknowledging Nina Lum and Paris Thompson for their work inside.
Stanton was looking ahead to the next game as she said, “We need to focus more on our overall defensive intensity.”
While the girls had a bit of a slow start to their game, the Sandy Creek boys opened red hot and with purpose. Their starting five, which entered the court as one unit during pregame introductions, all scored within the first four minutes of the game. Before the Warriors could run one of their set offensive plays they were down 12-2, including a four-point play by Jarred Godfrey. By the time the whirlwind of the first quarter ended, the Patriots were up 28-6. As the game progressed, head coach Anthony McKissic was subbing his roster in waves. Each man that entered the game had a specific role which he understood and executed.
When White County seemed to settle themselves a bit in the third quarter, junior guard Kameron Miller momentarily took the game over with two steals, three assists, and a 3-pointer in a two-minute stretch that gave the Patriots and the crowd renewed energy.
As Coach McKissic said afterwards, “Our guys understand their roles. While all of them could start for a lot of schools, they have bought in to what we are doing here and what our ultimate goal is.”
The mainstay of the entire game was Sandy Creek senior and captain Evan Jester. Jester excelled athletically, leading the team with 19 points, but he was also the coach on the floor. On every transition, Jester would give insight to the Sandy Creek bench on what the Warriors had done in their prior possession and what adjustments needed to be made. He was not only leading but he was also making his teammates better. When Jester picked up his third foul with five minutes left in the third, McKissic had the confidence to leave him in to play smart, which worked well as Jester didn’t commit another foul while continuing his hard-nosed defense.
McKissic spoke to who Jester was, both on and off the court, citing his academic prowess which is just as impressive as his basketball skills and his leadership skills.
Joining Jester at the top of the scoresheet for Sandy Creek was Godfrey with 15 points and KJ Wilkins with 10. With the game out of reach, the Patriot reserves saw extensive action in the fourth quarter which saw sophomores Julian Alexander and Shawn Hobson scoring 6 and 5 points respectively in just a few minutes of floor time, while Jester and the starters cheered them on to a final score of 79-48. McKissic acknowledged that the first quarter was some of their best basketball of the year, but also said, “We have to find a way to keep that up for the entire time. That’s our challenge.”
Fayette County takes home-and-home battle with Bainbridge
by Dylan Hynson
The Fayette County Tigers, region 3-AAAAA champions, began their quest for a state championship Saturday as the state playoffs began. The Tigers took on the Bainbridge Bearcats in front of their home crowd, turning a rough start to the game into a dominating second half en route to a 58-48 win over the Bearcats.
“Bainbridge played extremely well tonight,” Fayette County head coach Andre Flynn said. “They are one of the quicker teams we’ve played all year, and that disrupted some of the things we were trying to do. I’ve got a good bunch of kids who focused in after a rough start and have been in this situation in a state playoff game before. I’m proud of the team effort they gave tonight.”
Bainbridge came out and shocked the Tigers, starting the game on an 8-0 run. Flynn called a timeout just three minutes into the game, yelling at his players to get their heads in the game. They responded, as senior forward Noah Gurley scored their first points of the game immediately following the timeout. Senior point guard Austin Nesmith also provided a spark for the Tigers with his seven first quarter points and to help tie the score at the end of the quarter at 13.
“I told them after I called timeout that [Bainbridge] came up here to beat our butt,” Flynn said with a laugh. “We needed to go out and attack them and match their energy and they did that.”
Gurley began to heat up again, scoring the first two field goals in the second quarter to give the Tigers the lead. The Bearcats kept in the game with their impressive rebounding numbers, grabbing seven offensive boards in the first half. However, Bainbridge failed to convert their second-chance point opportunities, especially from behind the three-point line. Fayette continued to apply pressure on defense with their full court press, causing lots of confusion for the Bearcats offensively. The Tigers held on to a 25-20 lead heading into the locker room for halftime.
“Bainbridge has speed and quickness, and I’ll take that all day,” Flynn said responding to the amount of offensive rebounds his team allowed in the first half. “They flat out played better than us in the first half, and, even though we took a lead into the break, we knew we needed to play better in the second half.”
The third quarter showed just how dominant the Tigers can be. Lead by Gurley and Nesmith, Fayette went on a 12-2 run to begin the half, giving them a 37-22 lead with 4:35 left in the third quarter. Bainbridge struggled to hold on to the ball and missed an exceptional amount of shots when they didn’t turn the ball over. The Bearcats scored only eight points in the quarter, while the Tigers added 22 to their column. The exclamation point of the lopsided quarter came late with an alley-oop from Nesmith to Gurley, slamming the ball through the hoop and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
“I challenged them at halftime to come out and play better,” Flynn said. “I told them that [Bainbridge] took it to us in the first half, so let’s take it to them in the second half. I knew if we started the third quarter well and established our game, we’d be just fine.”
With Fayette in full control and potentially looking forward to their second round opponent, the Tigers started out the fourth quarter slow and sloppy. Bainbridge found an opportunity to cut into the lead and took advantage, starting the fourth quarter on a run and shortening the Tiger lead to 11 at one point. However, the Tigers got themselves together and finished the game strong for a 58-48 win in their first round state playoff matchup.
Gurley finished the night with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Nesmith added 19 points.
The Fayette County Lady Tigers are on a new road, but that won’t keep them from winning in the playoffs. For the first time under head coach John Strickland, the Tigers opened the playoffs on the road with a 45-36 over Bainbridge.
For nine straight years, Fayette played for the region title, locking up at least one home state playoff game each season. A little mileage didn’t hurt, as they returned to Fayetteville with a convincing win and a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
“It was a good quality road win for our program,” said Strickland.
Darryl Langford led the way offensively with 15 points, and Trinity Brown added 13 points. Naomi Franco crashed the glass hard all night, pulling down 18 rebounds.
“Naomi kept them from getting second-chance shots and allowed us more chances on the offensive end of the floor,” praised Strickland.