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State basketball quarterfinals pit local programs against No. 1 schools
Gainesville girls, Johnson and East Hall boys all face top-ranked opponent in third round of playoff
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Johnson's Michael Garcia puts a ball in the basket as he is fouled by West Laurens' Ramel Mason during a second-round playoff game Saturday in Oakwood. The Knights face top-ranked Jonesboro in the Class AAAA quarterfinals on Wednesday in Oakwood. - photo by Erin O. Smith

State quarterfinals
Class AAAAA

Gainesville girls at Mays, 6 p.m. Tuesday

Class AAAA

Johnson boys vs. Jonesboro, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Buford girls vs. St. Pius, 6 p.m., Tuesday

Class AAA

East Hall girls at Calhoun, 6 p.m. Wednesday

East Hall boys vs. Laney, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Dawson County girls at Laney, 7 p.m. Tuesday

Class A (Public)

Commerce girls vs. Terrell County, 6 p.m. Tuesday

All tickets are $7 per Georgia High School Association rules.

Two words quickly roll off the tongue of Johnson coach Jeff Steele when talking about state quarterfinal opponent Jonesboro. It’s certainly a flattering assessment of the top-ranked Cardinals (29-1).

“Scary good,” Steele said. He went on to flesh out that statement by saying, “It’ll take a heroic effort to beat Jonesboro.”

That’s not to say Steele doesn’t think it can be done by the fifth-ranked Knights (29-0). Johnson is playing some of its best basketball at this most-important stage of the season, Steele said. To feed into the atmosphere Wednesday, Johnson’s coach said gates will open at 5 p.m., and expect a packed house well before the 7:30 p.m. tip-off.

“This is going to be the most intense atmosphere our guys have ever played in,” said Steele.

Johnson is one of three local programs tasked with facing a top-ranked opponent in the third round of the state tournament over the next two days — provided that the weather cooperates.

In Class AAA, East Hall (24-5) draws a home game against No. 1 Laney (28-1) on Wednesday in Gainesville, while Gainesville’s girls have a rematch of a regular-season game against No. 1 Mays (25-2) in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals tonight in Atlanta.

On the flip side, two of the local programs ranked No. 1 will continue the chase for a state title. In Class AAA, undefeated Dawson County (29-0) visits Laney (26-3) in Augusta, while Class AAAA’s No. 1 Buford (27-3) gets a rematch of its 2014 title game loss to St. Pius X (27-3), tonight in Buford.

The East Hall girls (19-10) play at Calhoun (25-4) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Class AAA quarterfinals.

For the Johnson boys, success starts with seniors Ty Cockfield (29 points, eight rebounds) and Roderick English (21 points, 11 boards).

Jonesboro has won the majority of its games with ease this season, and beat No. 4 St. Pius X by 10 in the second round.

Losing only to the nation’s second-ranked Monteverde Academy (Fla.) 92-72 in the regular season, the Cardinals are led by James Walker Jr., a top-five prospect nationally in the Class of 2017, with 18 points and four rebounds a game.

Senior guard Deantre Mack is averaging 11 points a game for the Cardinals, which went over 90 points in a game five times this season.

“I’m trying to be optimistic about our guys chances in this one,” said Steele.

East Hall coach Joe Dix is also upbeat, saying after Saturday’s second-round win against Peach County that it’s the best his squad has played all season. The Vikings’ coach sees a very similar program to his own at Laney.

The Vikings have had nine players score 10, or more, in a game this season. East Hall, led by senior Kyvon Davenport at 22 points and 12 rebounds a game, has four guys averaging double-digit points a game.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats have 11 players who regularly score, led by JaShawn Brooks (13.1 ppg), Christian Keeling (11.3 ppg) and Collin Young (11 ppg). Laney is riding a 28-game winning streak, since losing the season opener to Class A’s No. 1 St. Francis.

“Laney is really, really good,” said Dix. “They have five very good starters.

“It’s going to take a full 32-minute performance for us to beat them.”

For Gainesville, the No. 1 opponent it faces, Mays, is a rematch of its season-opening 68-41 loss for the Lady Red Elephants on Nov. 20 in Norcross.

Lady Red Elephants coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore doesn’t put too much stock in that game when both programs were still getting in sync. Gainesville punched its ticket to the state quarterfinals with Friday’s exciting 47-45 win on a buzzer-beater shot by Taylor Hawks against Greenbrier.

Working in Gainesville’s favor, according to its coach, is the fact that scoring has been balanced among Hawks, Shikiya Brown, Breana Fair and Kayla Kelly. Every game, a different player for the Lady Red Elephants is able to step up with a big performance, making shutting down a single scorer almost useless.

Mays’ strength is its size and guard play. The Lady Raiders have two players inside, 6-foot-5 center Kennedy Rushin and 6-3 Harlyn Wyatt, who create matchup programs. Mays also has a pair of guards, junior Kennya Simms and Kamiyah Street, who are solid on the shooting end.

“We’re going to have to play almost perfect to win this one,” said Hill-Gilmore.

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