Semifinals rundown; predictions review
The semifinals of the Class AA playoffs for both the boys and girls took place on Saturday at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. On the girls side, top-ranked Laney beat No. 2 Model and No. 5 Rabun County beat unranked Bleckley County. On the boys side, top-ranked South Atlanta beat No. 10 Josey and unranked Swainsboro beat No. 5 Dublin.
The championship games for both the boys and girls will take place on Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, with the Laney girls tipping off against Rabun County at 2 p.m. and the South Atlanta boys playing Swainsboro at 4 p.m.
In the girls semifinals, both winning teams looked strong and poised for a championship by posting double-digit victories.
Laney’s Lady Wildcats knocked off Model and one of the nation’s top juniors in Victaria Saxton, winning 65-49. The Lady Wildcats jumped to a 33-16 halftime lead and maintained it throughout the second half to advance. Sophomore guard Jaiden Hamilton led Laney with 19 points and added nine rebounds, followed by D’Sha Benjamin (18 points, seven rebounds, five blocks) and Jazmine Bartlett (12 points).
Saxton finished with a game-high 21 points to finish as the Lady Blue Devils’ only double-digit scorer.
Rabun County’s Lady Wildcats led from start to finish in their 65-37 blowout win over Bleckley County, with Georgia Stockton leading her team with 18 points in the winning effort. Bleckley County’s Jahnaria Brown scored a game-high 20 points.
In the boys semifinals, the games were a little tighter, with Swainsboro squeaking out a win and South Atlanta pulling away for an 11-point victory.
The Hornets beat Josey 61-50 behind Devonta Pullins’ game-high 19 points, while Jalen Stegall and Dondre Barnes added 17. For the second playoff game in a row, the Hornets started slow but lived to tell about. They trailed 6-4 after the first quarter before finding a rhythm.
Domonique Hurst led Josey with 17 points, followed by John Williams and Rodriguez Dagget, who each scored 11 points.
Swainsboro continues its improbably run, reaching the finals as an unranked team with a 68-64 win over Dublin. The Tigers, a No. 1 seed from Region 2, beat No. 8 Chattooga 64-61, in the quarterfinals. All of their wins from the second round on have been of the single digit variety.
On Saturday, Swainsboro’s Jaylan McKinney scored a game-high 32 points and the Tigers did just enough down the stretch to distance themselves from a Dublin team that never backed down. The Fighting Irish’s Kameron Pauldo had 27 points.
- Every so often, a team flying under the radar proves itself in the playoffs against top-notch competition to make a run no one saw coming. That’s what unranked Swainsboro has done. I had them exiting in the second round, but instead the Tigers beat Monticello, which was a quarterfinalist last season, in Round 2, then beat another Cinderella team, No. 8 Chattooga in the quarterfinals, and now they’ve beat No. 5 Dublin to reach the finals.
- South Atlanta was my pick to win it all and that remains a possibility, but they’re going to have to step up their play — especially coming out of the gate. They fell in a hole early to Washington County in the quarterfinals and spent the entire game catching up, needing overtime to survive. And they started slow in the semis against Josey before righting the ship. Of course, picking the Hornets to win the tournament isn’t necessarily a bold move, but the fact remains that they’ve lived up to their billing as a top-ranked team and have advanced to the title while playing all season with a target on their backs. There’s something to be said for that.
- As the bracket shows, the championship matchup is as predicted. And nothing has happened on either side of the bracket to change my mind about the title game’s outcome. Both Laney and Rabun County have passed its tournament tests thus far and have yet to be contested, with all victories coming by in comfortable double-digit fashion.
Check back on Wednesday when the championship games will be previewed more in-depth. Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.