Class AA blog: Championship preview

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

Thursday is the day champions will be crowned in Class AA. The action starts at 2 p.m. at the Macon Centreplex, when the No. 5 Early County Lady Bobcats play the No. 6 Douglass Lady Astros, followed by the boys at 4 p.m., with the No. 4 Therrell Panthers taking on the No. 3 Vidalia Indians.

(For the AJC’s coverage of the AA semis, go here)

Below is a breakdown of each matchup.

Boys

The Panthers (25-7) will swear their away uniforms, though both they and the Indians (26-4) entered the tournament as No. 2 seeds.

The Panthers beat Model (74-59), Bremen (68-48), No. 6 Northeast-Macon (68-57) and No. 5 Elbert County (57-47), winning all games by at least double digits. As he’s done all season, Robbie Armbrester came up big for the Panthers in the semis, notching 17 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Cameron Fortson with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

Though the Panthers appeared to have Region 6 wrapped up, they lost the regular season finale — and the top seed for the 6-AA tournament — to South Atlanta, and again lost to South Atlanta in the 6-AA title game. However, they’ve rebounded and may have received some help along the way, starting with Elbert County.

It was the Blue Devils who turned the tournament upside down by hosting and defeating top-ranked, undefeated Woodville-Tompkins. Though Woodville was eliminated, the Panthers still had to beat the team that eliminated them, and they did.

Further, the pesky South Atlanta team that’s had the Panthers’ number as of late, and which entered the tournament ranked No. 2, was eliminated in the semis by Vidalia in the quarterfinals on the Hornets’ home court.

Will this be the Panthers’ year to shine? Their talent has been obvious for some time, as I picked them to win it all last year as a sophomore-laden team. They lost in the quarters then, but with another year of development they now seem poised to win their first-ever title.

As noted in my predictions, the Panthers would likely be in the midst of a dynasty had they not lost two players — including the country’s top prospect in Anthony Edwards — to the GISA’s Holy Spirit over the past two seasons.

To win it all, the Panthers must beat an Indians team very hungry to finish what they started last season, when they finished as runner-ups to to Thomasville. Then it was considered a surprise, at least to pollsters, as they entered the tournament unranked.

The Indians have had some close calls along the way to the finals, beating Southwest-Macon (62-46), No. 10 Early County (49-46), No. 2 South Atlanta (46-43) and No. 8 Laney (53-44).

In the semis, the Indians’ Xavier McClendon had 16 points and 10 blocks for an unconventional double-double.

Should the Indians win, it would be their first-ever title.

Based on the way the Indians have played in the tournament — they’ve yet to allow more than 46 points — this could be a low-scoring affair.

Girls

The Lady Bobcats (27-4) will wear their away uniforms as a No. 2 seed, with the Lady Astros (26-6) a No. 1 seed.

To reach this point in the tournament, the Lady Bobcats had to rely heavily on sophomore sensation Makayla Timpson and she has delivered — most recently in their semifinals game against Model, when she dropped 31 points including 17-of-20 free throw shooting, 17 rebounds and six blocks.

The Lady Bobcats also beat No. 2 Rabun County (73-60) in the quarters, No. 7 Woodville-Tompkins (62-41) in the second round and Jefferson County (72-34) in the first round.

The Lady Astros made sure that, for the first time since 2016, there will be a champion in AA other than Laney, beating the No. 4 Lady Wildcats 66-60 in the semis. In that game, they overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to win, with Nekiyah Thompson scoring 27 points, followed by Ashuntez Weems (15 points) and Ikenya King (nine points, 17 rebounds).

The Lady Astros also knocked off top-ranked, undefeated Fitzgerald in the quarterfinals, and it wasn’t even close — they won 68-52. They also beat Banks County 55-45 in the second round, and Gordon Central 61-51 in the opening round.

What this game boils down to is simple: do the Lady Astros have a well-rounded enough team to stop Timpson and the Lady Bobcats. The challenge for Douglass is that, Timpson aside, the Lady Bobcats are a well-coached team with more-than-capable role players. It won’t be about stopping one player.

This is the furthest Douglass has ever been; Early County is seeking its second championship, with the first coming in 2003.

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