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High school basketball playoffs: Area teams stay in familiar territory for state quarterfinal round
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Effingham County's Rashad Roper, right, grabs a rebound in front of Gainesville High's Ross Tipton (11) and Brent Kelly (4) Thursday night during the first half of their second round playoff loss to Gainesville High at the Gainesville High gymnasium.

State quarterfinals
Today’s games

Class AAAAAA

Gainesville boys vs. Langston Hughes, 6:30 p.m.

Class AAAAA

Flowery Branch girls at Carrollton, 6 p.m.
Buford girls at Warner Robins, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday’s games
Class AAAAA

Buford boys vs. Warner Robins, 6 p.m.

Class A private schools

Lakeview Academy girls vs. Darlington, 5:30 p.m.
Lakeview Academy boys vs. Athens Christian, 7 p.m.

Tickets are $7 for single games, $10 for doubleheaders

Fans won’t have to travel very far for the state quarterfinal round of basketball games this week.

With seven area teams remaining in the latter stage of this postseason, The Gainesville boys host a third-round game tonight, while Lakeview plays back-to-back home playoff games Wednesday.

The Buford boys and girls, Flowery Branch girls and Dawson County girls are others playing with state semifinal implications on the line.

In the second round, the Lady Lions squeezed past Greenforest behind a 32-point performance from Hanna Grogan to notch a return to the quarterfinals. They’ll tip off at 5:30 p.m. against Darlington.

It’s a wonderful feeling for girls coach John Carrick to be holding a quarterfinal game on their court, as the Lions were ousted this time last year at Kennesaw State University.

Carrick believed the energy of the home crowd greatly influenced the team’s play down the home stretch last week, one of his players even comparing the atmosphere to this past Lanierland tournament after the win.

“Common sense would tell you it’s better to play on your home court, better to sleep in your own bed, better to do your same routine you always do — and we are able to because it is in our own facility,” Carrick said. “It’s good in the fact that we are being rewarded for the good season we have had prior to this.”

Carrick of course isn’t about to downplay anyone this deep in the state tournament, especially Darlington, which buoys an efficient all-around game behind the play of point guard and Wofford College signee Anna Claire Atha, who tallied 31 points — including 12 in the fourth quarter — in the Tigers’ 57-51 win over Calvary Day in the second round last week.

“She can shoot the long ball, she can penetrate, she can post up. She’s got the total game,” said Carrick of Atha. One heck of a good player.”

The Tigers (23-6) holster a bevy of sharpshooters capable of scoring from beyond the arc and bring what Carrick describes as a full-court man face guard defense. The coach anticipates two aggressive teams butting heads until the final buzzer sounds.

As for the boys, the Lions (24-5) rallied late to survive a double-overtime thriller against Wesleyan on Wednesday, booking just their second-ever appearance in the state quarterfinals. They face Athens Christian for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Lions have never made it past the third round.

Playing one another for the third time bodes plenty of familiarity between Lakeview and Athens Christian, according to Lakeview Academy boys coach Todd Cottrell. He hopes they can fit one or two wrinkles into their approach this week.

“A lot of these guys have played varsity basketball three or four years now, played in several big games. I think that experience is gonna help us some,” Cottrell said of his current group. “But you still gotta defend, you still gotta rebound, execute. If we do those three things at a very high level, we gotta good chance.”

In Class AAAAAA, the No. 1 seed Gainesville boys team is one group still relishing its current playoff standing. The Red Elephants (28-1), now sporting a clean bill of health, are in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 following a dominant 26-point defeat of Effingham County on Thursday in Gainesville. The junior-laden squad appeares primed for an even deeper run, and hosts third-seeded Langston Hughes 6:30 p.m. tonight.

The Panthers overcame a seven-point deficit in the final quarter to upset No. 1 seed Lee County 59-56 on Thursday.

Using its vintage size and defensive pressure, Gainesville has outscored the opposition 152-86 while generating 57 turnovers through the first two rounds.

In Class AAAAA, the No. 2 seed Lady Falcons (23-6) are back in the state quarterfinals despite spending the last two rounds on the road. Their most recent triumph came after embarking on a four-plus hour bus ride to Statesboro last week, dismantling the top seeds in convincing fashion.

Since a decisive first-round win against North Springs, the Falcons will have logged 296 miles by tonight’s 6 p.m. tipoff at No. 1 seed Carrollton. With a win, the Falcons would face either Eagles Landing or Southwest Dekalb at Columbus State University in the semifinals 2 p.m. Saturday.

The top-seeded Lady Wolves (26-2) travel outside Buford City Arena for the first time this postseason for a clash with fellow top seed Warner Robins (27-1) 5:30 p.m. tonight in Houston County. The Lady Wolves, who come in ranked No.1 in Score Atlanta’s pre-playoff poll and have appearances in six of the previous eight state finals, haven’t dropped a game since Jan. 20.

However, they face a top-five opponent of the Class AAAAA who boasts a 12-game win streak of its own dating back to Jan. 17.

Buford girls coach Gene Durden has coached many big games in his 12-year tenure at Buford. He knows they’ll have their hands full against the Demons, an athletic and senior-heavy cast whose strongest trait lies in the post. The Demons offense is paced by guard Kezia Holmes, who averages 17 points a contest and scored 19 against a stout Columbia for a 61-43 second-round win last week. Six-foot post player Shynia Jackson also leads with nine boards a game.

“We really gotta do a good job of keeping them off the boards,” said Durden, who has coached the Wolves to four state titles since 2006. “They’re a senior-based team. We gotta make sure we carry our best game and we’re ready to play.”

In the boys bracket, a coin toss decided the location of No. 1 seeds Buford (26-2) and Warner Robins (26-3), as both meet under the lights of Buford City Arena for a 6 p.m. tipoff on Wednesday. Buford got some late-game heroics from guard Alex Jones, who drove down court and made a short pull-up jumper in the closing seconds to lift the Wolves to a 68-67 edge of New Hampstead last week.

Nelson Phillips scored 24 points — all in the second half — to lead the Demons to a 65-45 win over Southwest DeKalb on Thursday.

In Class AAA, Kaylee Sticker scored 23 points to lead the second-seeded Lady Tigers to a 10-point win against Monroe-Albany on Wednesday night. They play at No. 1 seed Morgan County in a 6:30 p.m. tipoff tonight.

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