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Neutral site quarterfinal round makes for long playoff basketball trips
West Hall’s Macy Passmore (22) dribbles around Adairsville’s Zay Harris (23) on Feb. 17 during the first round of Class AAA state playoffs at West Hall High. - photo by Erin O. Smith

State quarterfinals
at Columbus State University

Flowery Branch girls vs. Brunswick, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Class AAAA
at Fort Valley State University

Buford girls vs. Arabia Mountain, 6:30 p.m. Friday

Class AAA
at Augusta University

West Hall girls vs. Maynard Jackson, 6:30 p.m. Friday

Class A private school
at Kennesaw State University

Lakview Academy girls vs. Southwest Atlanta Christian, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Lakeview Academy boys vs. Whitefield Academy,  4:45 p.m. Friday

Strictly on the basis of travel, Lakeview Academy fared best among the local programs remaining with the potential of two games for both programs in the Class A private school basketball quarterfinals at Kennesaw State University.

The Lions will have to drive 70 miles to Cobb County: the Lady Lions (23-6) face Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy on Thursday night in the second round, while the Lakeview boys (25-4) make the trip the following day to face Whitefield Academy in the second round of the 16-team bracket.

Traveling for the quarterfinal and semifinal round is a change of pace from last year when the Round of 16 was held on the campus of a participating team. In 2015, Johnson’s boys were able to hold quarterfinal game against Jonesboro in front of a packed gym in Oakwood.

This season the quarterfinal and semifinal round are going to a neutral site location based on classification. All 14 championship games will be played March 3-5 at the Macon Centreplex.

Second-ranked Flowery Branch (29-1) has the most daunting travel schedule, traveling 150 miles to face top-ranked Brunswick (29-2) at Columbus State University on Thursday. Should the Lady Falcons win, they’d stay in Columbus through Saturday for the semifinal matchup, according to first-year coach Courtney Newton, and practice at a local church gym they’ve arranged to utilize for three days.

Newton said she was a fan of playing a true Final Four, like in past years at Macon. With the schedule the way it is, Flowery Branch made the decision early to stay in Columbus, if they win Thursday, instead of driving back and forth.

With such a quick turnaround between the quarterfinals and potential state semifinal matchup, team conditioning will be key to fighting off tired legs.

“I’d definitely like more time to prepare between games, but we don’t have any room to complain as one of only eight teams playing for the state title,” Lakeview Academy girls coach John Carrick said.

Even if the Lakeview Academy girls win, its coach said they’re coming home Thursday to quickly prepare for a game against either St. Francis or Mount Paran Christian on Saturday at Kennesaw State.

West Hall girls coach Bryan Richerson said the possibility of playing on back-to-back days at Augusta State in the Class AAA state semifinals could play to its advantage.

The Lady Spartans (21-8) played four of their starters the entire game in the second-round victory against Washington County, according Richerson. Due to weather postponement, West Hall also had to play games on three consecutive days in the Region 7-AAA tournament.

“I think our conditioning is really what’s gotten us through,” said Richerson.

The coach of the Lady Spartans said he wasn’t even aware of the quarterfinal neutral site until he looked at the bracket last week.

Other neutral sites this weekend include: the University of West Georgia for Class AAAAAA, Fort Valley State in Class AAAA, Georgia College & State University for Class AA, and Valdosta State University for the Class A public schools.

Both Lakeview Academy programs, and the West Hall and Flowery Branch girls also played the post-Christmas Lanierland tournament, which had games with limited rest between rounds.

Carrick said the onus for players is on staying focused for playing away from home and against tough competition. As a coach, he’s going to have a scouting report on the next opponent ready, should his Lady Lions advance.

“We can celebrate once the season is over,” said Carrick.

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