Breakdown of State Finalists
The No. 2-seeded Pace Academy (24-7) is one win away from claiming its fifth all-time state title and the program’s third championship in the last four years. The Knights entered Class 4A this season after competing in Class 2A the previous two seasons, and their only two losses within the classification came in Region 5 – against a team of McDonough and Lovett, with whom they shared games. In the playoffs, Pace Academy rebounded from a two-point loss to Lovett in the regions championship with a massive 67-28 win over Miller Grove. The Knights followed that win with a 58-41 away win over Walnut Grove and a 62-31 away win over Baldwin in the Quarterfinals. Pace Academy took on a strong Westover team in the semifinals, completing a 57-49 win. “We didn’t do our best today, but of course the free throws were huge,” said Sharman White, Pace Academy head coach, after the semifinals. “Pace Academy took a 34-31 lead in the fourth quarter and was 24th throughout the game -of-30 from the free throw line and 15-of-19 in the fourth quarter from the charity line. Kyle Green hit 8 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter and increased his team-high 16 points with 14 of 16 shots from the foul line. Eric Chatfield Jr. finished with 13 points and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the line. Senior Kendall Evans added 10 points and led the way defensively with four blocks, and LJ Moore added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Region 2, No. 2 Seed Baldwin Braves (24-8)
Baldwin is one win away from winning the program’s first state championship since 1988, when the Braves captured a third straight crown. Baldwin has been one of Georgia’s top programs in the decades since his last championship and this year’s team is determined to end the drought and start a new chapter. Baldwin’s talent and skill showed in the semifinals, where the Braves defeated the Holy Innocents 58-45. Baldwin was trailing 4-2 early in the contest but quickly took over. Baldwin ended the first quarter on a 14-5 run and a no-look pass from Jasmine Williams to a wide-open Kassidy Neal under the basket helped increase the lead to 20-9 early in the second quarter. “We didn’t want to change anything,” Baldwin head coach Kizzy Walker said of her team’s fast pace. “We wanted to come out and play fast and play our style of basketball.” Neal led the Braves by 16 points in the first half as they went 28-21 ahead. She finished the game with a team-high 23 points and teammate Madison Ruff caught fire in the third quarter when she scored 13 of her 17 points in frame. Baldwin extended his lead to 44-33 in the fourth quarter and Zy’Keria Paschal improved with six of their eight points in the fourth quarter. “It’s been a tough year,” Walker said. “We started the year so slowly, but the girls focused and improved a lot.” Baldwin started the season 0-4 and was 5-7 before averaging an 18-1 record since.
Region 2, No. 1 Seed Griffin Bears (25-4)
Griffin (26-4) had never won in the semifinals before Wednesday’s 59-54 win over Hardaway (24-5) and reached the championship for the first time in program history. “They are a very brave group. And those girls have seen a lot of heartbreak over the years,” said Griffin head coach Roy Johnson. “So they don’t want to go home and they especially don’t want to go home because they know they haven’t made a full effort, and luckily we still have an opportunity to get it done.” Hardaway also wanted to make history and fighting for his first state championship next week in Macon but couldn’t stop the Bears in the fourth quarter. The Hawks were 27:25 behind Griffin at halftime and used a 19:14 advantage in the third quarter to build a 44:41 lead. Trailing 44-41, Griffin opened the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run to take a 50-44 lead before ending the win. “Zy Thompson stood up for us,” Johnson said. “She had three fouls in the third quarter and so I didn’t want her to get in trouble in the fourth. Coming back fourth she had a few steals and made some big free throws. That also helped get Aaliyah Durham going. And that is our supreme leadership. They do.” Thompson finished with 15 points and Durham led by 15 points in the second half with a game-high 26 points. Bears teammate Leah Turner was also in double figures (11) and had eight points in the second half. Hardaway was led by Mikayla Johnson (23), Akilah Shelton (8), Adazha Burrell (8) and Jenaiya Hardy (8).
DID YOU KNOW: PACE ACADEMY HEAD COACH SHARMAN WHITE HAS WON NINE ALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN TIPOFF (MILLER GROVE 2009-14, 2016 and PACE ACADEMY 2020-21).