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Chestatee girls, Johnson boys advance to Region 8-AAAA title games
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Chestatee's Bridgette Kelly drives to the basket over Jasmine Greene of Eastside. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

OAKWOOD — Chestatee’s Erin Clifford was faced with a difficult decision with the ball in hand behind the 3-point line late in Thursday’s game against Eastside during the Region 8-AAAA semifinals at Johnson High. Leading by eight with only 5:20 left to play, Clifford debated passing down inside to senior Maegan Kenimer, who was in the midst of a stellar performance.

Clifford knew a basket was a big deal, with Eastside was still in the game that determined a spot in the region championship game. After lining up for the shot, Clifford brought the ball back down before going up once again and draining a 3-pointer to help the Lady War Eagles lock up the 54-40 win. With the victory, Chestatee (22-5) has a shot to claim its first region championship against Madison County at 7 tonight in Oakwood.

“I really didn’t know if I should shoot it or pass it inside to Maegan,” said Clifford, who finished with 16 points. “Then I just decided to shoot it.”

Clifford said the win was also satisfying, thinking back to a one-point loss to Eastside during the regular season.
Chestatee also lost in the 2012 Region 8-AAA championship game to North Hall 42-29.

“It’s a big deal for us trying to win the first region championship,” Clifford added.

With Clifford’s outside shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Kenimer’s inside presence, the Lady War Eagles overcame an 8-0 deficit only three minutes into the contest. Sam Brown and Clifford hit back-to-back 3’s for Chestatee to help turn the tide later in the opening period.

However, it was Kenimer with the biggest impact for the Lady War Eagles. Her first basket came on a bank shot with a minute to play in the opening quarter. Then Kenimer, who scored a game-high 24 points, scored 11 more points in the second quarter.

“Maegan’s amazing and such a big part of our team,” Clifford said. “Without her, we’d be a totally different team.”

Again in the third quarter, Eastside began to challenge, getting back to as close as five points after a Zaria Barton basket. Jasmine Cook also had eight of her team-high 16 points in the third for Eastside. After Barton’s basket, Clifford connected on her third 3-pointer of the game for Chestatee.

With the loss, Eastside faces Stephens County in the third-place game at 4 p.m. today at Johnson. All four teams are already qualified for the state playoffs.

JOHNSON BOYS 92, STEPHENS COUNTY 62: Carter Cagle connected on seven 3-pointers, four on consecutive shots early in the second quarter, and scored a game-high 23 points for the Knights (23-4) in the Region 8-AAAA semifinal in Oakwood on Thursday. With the win, Johnson advances to face Eastside, a 62-43 winner over Madison County, in the region championship game at 8:30 tonight at Johnson High.

Ty Cockfield finished with 21 points and seven assists for the Knights, and James Hodges had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

“I’m very happy that we’re in the region championship game,” Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. “I felt like we played in spurts tonight, and there’s some things we definitely need to shore up before the playoffs like our rebounding and transition defense, but overall we played well tonight.”

With the win, Johnson is assured a home game to open the Class AAAA state tournament next week. The Knights are seeking their first region championship since a Region 7-AAA title in 2005.

Also in double figures for Johnson was Montrell McKenzie with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Cagle had the most notable hot hand in the game for Johnson. His four consecutive 3-pointers were in a 1:34 span early in the second quarter. He finished the quarter with 14 of his points, including a layup with 3:05 left before halftime to stretch the lead to 38-23.

Cagle added a 3-pointer in both the third and fourth quarter for the Knights.

“Carter had a huge night for us,” Steele said. “He’s not been shooting the ball well lately, and he really helped our team out tonight.”

Hodges helped Johnson pull away in the third quarter with four baskets underneath.

McKenzie helped the Knights jump out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter with two scoring plays. Leading 13-10 late in the opening quarter, McKenzie grabbed a rebound under the Stephens County goal, tip-toed running along the sideline and past a defender and in for the basket and ensuing foul shot.

Less than a minute later, McKenzie had a dunk on a pass from midcourt by Drew Dunham.

Fred Smith and Cody Helgeland each scored 14 for the Indians. Stephens County faces Madison County in the third-place game at 5:30 today in Oakwood.

All four teams are already qualified for the state playoffs.

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