Region championship celebrations and heartbreak have now given way to state tournament action. All three Newton County Georgia High School Association schools have teams participating in the tournament's first round, and we have state tournament capsules previewing the action.
Peachtree Ridge at Newton
The Matchup: No. 4 seeded Peachtree Ridge (16-12, 8-5 in Region 6-AAAAAAA) at No. 1 seeded Newton (26-1, 9-1 in Region 8-AAAAAAA)
Tip Time: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
The Trends: Despite its second place regular season finish in its region, Peachtree Ridge will enter Friday’s game on a bit of a slide. The Lions have lost two straight, and four of its last five. Meanwhile, the Newton Rams are coming off a region championship game in which it avenged its only loss by beating Shiloh this past Saturday.
The Playmakers: Peachtree Ridge will look to 6-foot-4 junior Devin Vassell (13 ppg) and 6-foot-5 senior Kris Collins (11 ppg) to provide spark. Meanwhile, Newton will counter with its much ballyhooed “big three” of seniors Isaiah Miller and J.D. Notae, along with sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans. The wild card for the Rams will be the shooting of senior guard Darvin Jones. Sophomores Colby Rogers and Armani Harris have been getting more confident as well, as the season has gone on.
The Outlook: The speed at which Newton’s transition game can come at you when it's clicking on all cylinders can be dizzying. Peachtree Ridge’s backcourt length could cause for the Rams to make some initial adjustments, but it’ll be hard to imagine Newton struggling too much to get out of the first round.
Alcovy at Lee County
The Matchup: No. 4 seeded Alcovy (6-20 overall, 0-10 in Region 3-AAAAAA) at No. 1 seeded Lee County (14-15, 6-5 in Region 1-AAAAAA)
Tip Time: Saturday, 6 p.m.
The Trends: The trends for Alcovy are pretty consistent, albeit on the losing side. Save for the 59-53 win against Evans on Feb. 7 that gave the Tigers entrance into the state tournament as a No. 4 seed, Alcovy hadn’t won a game since Dec. 19. That was 15 straight losses and 16 defeats in the last 17 games. Lee County wasn’t much better until it got hot and won four straight to claim its region championship.
The Playmakers: Lee County is led by 6-foot-2 senior guard Tyler McConnell and junior TJ Harris. Both are double digit scorers and can catch fire from behind the arc. As for Alcovy, coach Mack Hardwick has a bit of a developing big three to depend on, now that senior Carnacion Cosby is healthy again. The 6-foot-5 senior has averaged 13.3 points per game in just 16 games played. Joining him as scoring threats are junior AJ Paschal (11.1 ppg) and junior Shaq Brown (10 ppg).
The Outlook: This isn’t your typical low seed vs. high seed state tournament matchup when you consider the fact that Lee County was five games below .500 before the region tourney hot streak in a relatively weak region. That means these two teams are more evenly matched than a run-of-the-mill No. 1 vs. No. 4 seed situation. So don’t be surprised to see Alcovy put together enough offense to find it moving on into round two.
Eastside at Mary Persons
The Matchup: No. 3 seeded Eastside (18-9, 9-3 in Region 4-AAAA) at No. 2 seeded Mary Persons (17-9, 7-4 in Region 2-AAAA)
Tip Time: Friday, 6 p.m.
The Trends: Eastside has rebounded after a bit of a midseason slump that sort of began with a pair of losses in the Sweet South Classic in Morgan County, and culminated with a pair of close region losses to Salem and a blowout loss to region champ Henry County. But since then, Eastside’s seven wins in the last eight games, including a 70-59 win against North Clayton in the Region 4-AAAA tournament’s consolation bracket game. Mary Persons has had a similar fate, as it has won seven of its last nine, but took an 84-65 loss to Upson-Lee in the Region 2-AAAA title game.
The Playmakers: For Eastside, it all starts with the two seniors: Region player of the year Keiodre Perry, and second teamer Des Dyer. Perry is scoring at an almost 23-points-per-game clip, while Dyer’s 17.7 and 10.8 boards a game has given him the rare double-double season average – impressive for a player who only stands about 6-foot-2. Defensively, the Eagles will have to find a way to corral high scoring junior Cameron Holden. The 6-foot-5 junior is on everybody’s recruiting watch list after averaging 26 points and 11 boards per game this season. He gets help from 6-foot-5 senior Clay Moore’s 10.6 ppg.
The Outlook: As is the case in the No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed matchup, both of these squads are pretty much mirror images of each other. Both boast high scorers and pure shooters. Both have players who can crash the boards. The key to victory for Eastside will likely rely upon how well it can bottle up Holden and if Justin Benjamin, Jerry Mays or Torrie Crawford can get off offensively.
Duluth at Newton
The Matchup: No. 3 seeded Duluth (15-12, 10-4 in Region 6-AAAAAAA) at No. 2 seeded Newton (20-6, 8-2 in Region 8-AAAAAAA)
Tip Time: Friday, 6 p.m.
The Trends: Duluth saw its three game win streak snapped by a 54-51 overtime loss to Mill Creek in the region semifinals. The Lady Rams incurred a similarly heartbreaking fate in their 73-70 double overtime setback to Archer in the Region 8-AAAAAAA championship game. Newton has gone 9-4 in its last 13 games, including two losses to Archer.
The Playmakers: Endia Banks is the go-to player for Duluth. She’s a 5-foot-8 senior captain who’s averaging 17.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But the Lady Wildcats have height and size littered across its roster, with five players who are 5-foot-10 or taller. Newton has been rising and falling – mostly rising – on the perimeter play of junior guards Lexi Chatman and Jurnee Smith. Both are dangerous around the basket, even against taller players. But Chatman has been clutch from behind the arc down the stretch of the season.
The Outlook: Lady Rams coach Tiffani Johnson lauded her team’s effort during the region tourney, despite the title game loss, and she said if they can duplicate that effort, she’s confident that her girls can make a very deep run. Look for Newton to come out focused and energized to erase the hurt from Saturday’s loss.