Class AAAA’s four finalists compete for program’s first state titles
The Columbus and Carver-Columbus rivalry takes center stage at the Class 4A girls state finals as the neighboring teams both compete for their first state titles. Columbus entered the playoffs coming off a 54-53 loss to Carver-Columbus and has used the size and outside shooting of its star-powered roster to refocus for an impressive four-game playoff run. SEC commits Tatyana Wyatt (Kentucky) and Ariyah Copeland (Alabama) are both 6-foot-3 playmakers that give the Blue Devils reliable mismatches in the post. Wyatt opened her postseason with a monster 31-point performance against Burke County, while Copeland shot an efficient 9-of-12 from the floor to contribute 24 points to go with her game-high 15 rebounds. Wyatt did most of her damage at the foul line where she netted 14 of 19 attempts. In the quarterfinals, Wyatt (21) and Copeland (18) combined for 39 points and in a 71-43 win over Spalding. This set up a showdown with Sandy Creek in the semifinals, and the Blue Devils got the same high level of production from Wyatt and Copeland along with a 20-point performance from Kasey Toles, who hit five three-pointers. Columbus went on to win 62-50 and Wyatt had 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Copeland posted a routine 11 points and 17 rebounds to go with four blocks. Brittany Floyd added 11 points, eight rebounds, three steals, two assists and a pair of blocks. Floyd is a senior point guard that averages 7.1 points per game to go with 4.6 assists per game. In the three games against Carver this season, Floyd has played above her season average by netting 12.3 points per game, including a season-high 16 points in December’s meeting.
Carver-Columbus has a 2-1 edge over Columbus this season, but the Tigers are fully aware of the size and talent of Columbus as they prepare to play for their first state title. The Region 1 champs have been on a collision course with their rivals, surviving the playoff gauntlet with the most recent victory coming in a 60-56 battle with Cross Creek and Memphis-commit Alana Davis in the semifinals. Cross Creek led 15-10 after the first quarter thanks to a strong start from Davis. The 6-foot-2 center netted the team’s first 10 points and went on to score 19 of the team’s 21 first half points as Carver-Columbus took a 22-21 lead into the half. The Tigers maintained the lead and went into the final quarter up 42-40, however Cross Creek would reclaim the lead (50-48) with 4:21 left. The teams tied it 52-52 with two minutes left before Carver-Columbus gained a 56-54 lead and ran down the clock to 35 seconds left. Mya Millner made one of two free throws to make it a 57-54 game and then Alycia Reese stole the ensuing Cross Creek possession before getting fouled. Reese hit one of the two free throws to make it a 58-54, until Cross Creek brought it back within two points with a quick bucket. Mariah Igus got the inbounds and was fouled with 1.9 seconds left with a chance to ice the game. The junior guard coolly drilled both attempts to clinch the four-point victory. The Tigers have been able to close out tight games throughout the season, including Feb. 10 when Carver and Columbus last faced. Trailing Columbus 53-51 in the closing seconds, Reese found an open Millner at the top of the key for a game-winning three-pointer with just three seconds left. That incredible finish four weeks ago in the Region title game only adds to the drama packing this highly-anticipated rematch.
St. Pius boys’ run to the finals snaps a long struggle of sustaining promising playoff runs. The Golden Lions had been 0-4 in the quarterfinals since its 1992 runner-up team, before a thrilling 64-60 win over Carver-Columbus on March 1 propelled them to the semifinals to take on Sandy Creek. In the second round, St. Pius fought back from a 25-20 deficit to Mary Persons to keep its playoff hopes alive with another four-point (74-70) victory. After two close calls, the atmosphere in the semifinals was electric as the Golden Lions packed the house at Augusta State. St. Pius exploded for a season-high points in a 87-68 win over Sandy Creek to break the 25-year finals drought. The Golden Lions opened the game with a 13-2 run and pushed the lead to 22-6 before closing out the first quarter with a 26-11 lead. Sandy Creek came alive in the second quarter and brought the deficit to seven points (30-23) midway through the quarter before eventually entering the half trailing 38-28. Sandy Creek went on to outscore St. Pius 22-14 in the third quarter and eventually tied the game at 52-52 with the first points of the final quarter. It was all St. Pius in the final frame, however, as the lead quickly grew to 65-58 lead with 4:17 left and the offense lit up to put together a 35-point fourth quarter effort. 6-foot-2 senior Carson Seramur led St. Pius with 22 points, while Lane finished with 17 points. Sophomore Matthew Gonzalo stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, five assists, five steals and three blocks, while Brian Gonzalo finished with seven points, four assists, four steals and a pair of rebounds.
Upson-Lee has its own history to make in Friday’s Class 4A finals as the 31-0 Knights play for the program’s first state title. After a heartbreaking first-round exit in last year’s playoffs, head coach Darrell Lockhart and his ultra-talented team has played with a laser focus night in and night out in a classification that has been otherwise filled with parity and weekly upsets. The Knights showcased their depth and unbeatable team chemistry in the semifinals as they closed out Henry County 74-59, snapping the Warhawks’ 18-game winning streak. Upson-Lee established a 17-9 lead after the first quarter of action, but Henry County used a 19-17 advantage in the second quarter to cut the gap to six points at the half (34-28). Zyrice Scott, who led Upson-Lee with 18 points, converted an old-fashion three-point play with just over four minutes left to put the Knights up by 11 points and they dribbled out the victory for the 31st straight time. Upson-Lee’s Travon Walker finished with 16 points and Tavias Fagan capped with 14 points. “It was a tough win,” Upson-Lee coach Darrell Lockhart told the Macon Telegraph last Saturday. “We had some guys in foul trouble, but the other guys stepped up.” Fagan is Upson-Lee’s primary scoring threat with a 21 points per game average. Scott supplies 12.5 points per game, while the 6-foot-5 Walker contributes 9.8 points per game to go with his stellar 10.7 rebounds per game. Upson-Lee is aggressive in terms of shooting the deep ball and Scott, Michael Smith (8.7 points per game) and Fagan have each attempted more than 100 three-pointers this season, including at least one game with 10 or more attempts. After averaging near 63 points per game in the regular season, the Knights have hit a playoff gear that is averaging 73.3 points per game.