North Gwinnett returns to the semifinals again after getting there last year for the first time since 1963. The Bulldogs will rely on a stiff defense, which has not allowed more than 53 points all season, and seniors Lexie Brown and Peyton Whitted. Brown averages more than 18 points per game along with five steals and seven assists, while Whitted drops almost 14 points per game. North Cobb traveled to Tifton and left with an easy 55-30 quarterfinals win in which sophomore Kyrie’ Chandler scored 10 of her team-leading 6 points in the fourth quarter. The Warriors are looking for their first state championship. Region 3-winner Langston Hughes comes in having not lost since late December. Ten Panthers average more than three points per game while leading scorer Tia Jones scores just 10. Norcross returns to the finals after a one-year absence after winning the 2010 and 2011 titles. The Blue Devils are paced by all-everything senior guard Diamond DeShields, who was recently named the Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year. DeShields had 28 points in the quarterfinal win over Cherokee while Shayla Cooper, a Georgetown commitment, led Norcross with 34.
Miller Grove will look to repeat as champions, this time in Class AAAAA. The Wolverines are led by senior guard Katie Hunt, who scored nine fourth-quarter points in the quarterfinal win over DeKalb-neighbor Tucker. Senior guard Tashi Thompson, a three-point specialist, leads the team with 13.2 points per game while Klarissa Weaver and Hunt are both around the 10-point mark. Effingham County rolls into Kennesaw after a 59-53 quarterfinals win in which Kyesha Lewis scored a game-high 23. The sophomore forward leads the Rebels by averaging almost 13 points and eight boards. Southwest DeKalb is looking to win the state title for the first time since the Panthers won three straight from 2008-2010. Coach Kathleen Walton’s team beat Stephenson in the semifinals, avenging a regular season loss. Southwest DeKalb has been hot of late, winning seven in a row including the Region 6-AAAAA tournament. Forest Park will take on SWD in a battle of Panthers and will look for a different result than the 65-33 loss it was dealt by SWD in January. Junior guard Kayla Potts leads the maroon and gold Panthers with an 11.6-point average and had 17 in the quarterfinal win over Hardaway, which came in overtime.
Class AAAA features three No. 1 seeds and fourth-seeded Sandy Creek which makes its first-ever final four appearance. Sandy Creek was in a tussle with Redan in the quarterfinals, but outscored the Raiders 23-8 in the third quarter and grabbed the 50-47 road win. The Patriots are capable of making scoring runs and winning close games, but Mary Persons will aim to outpace Sandy Creek with its own explosive offense. Mary Persons showcased their firepower in the quarterfinals when it led Woodland-Henry just 31-26 at the half, but scored 44 in the second half to win 75-60. Jonesboro and Columbia is the backend of the double header. Columbia has dominated during its playoff run never winning by fewer than 14 points (61-47 over LaGrange) and crushed top-seeded River Ridge 68-27 in the quarterfinals. Columbia forward Yaktavia Hickson scored 25 and guard Miah Spencer had 17 for Columbia. Jonesboro edged Howard 51-39 in the quarterfinals behind a 16-point game from Senior Briana Benson and a big 12-point, nine rebound game from sophomore Michaelle Smith.
St. Pius X enters the semifinals looking for the program’s first state title since 2007. Sophomore Asia Durr leads the team with 20.4 points per game, while junior Jasmine Carter is connecting on 49 percent of her field goal attempts. As a team, the Golden Lions have averaged 12.7 steals per game. Chapel Hill will offer some stiff competition as three seniors are averaging more than 12 points per game. Ashley Chestnut is the team’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. In the other game, Southwest-Macon will face Dawson County. The Tigers of Dawson County put the clamps down on Decatur in the second half of a 52-47 quarterfinal victory. Senior Carly Gilreath leads the attack with 15.7 points per game while Sheyenne Seabolt collects the most rebounds per game. Dawson County is the lone team remaining that did not win its region. Southwest-Macon offers a balanced attack with SheKenya Peters, Jazmine Burgan and Jasmine Askew all a threat to notch double-digit points. Emily Pennimon grabbed 19 rebounds in the quarterfinal win over Washington County. Willie Goolsby’s team is 22-5, its best record since the 2007-08 season when the team advanced to the Sweet 16.
Class AA lacks the Cinderella stories, but makes up for it with top-seeded powerhouses that arrive red hot for the state semifinals. All four teams are one seeds that claimed double-digit victories in the quarterfinals. The first of the two matchups is Laney against Kendrick. Laney senior Simone Smith is a 6-foot-2 power forward and scoring machine. In the quarterfinals, she scored 12 points in the first half to give Laney a comfortable 32-19 cushion in a 59-40 win over Pelham. As undefeated Laney looks to complete a perfect season, the Wildcats will have to do it against Kendrick which also reached the semis undefeated. In the quarterfinals Kendrick trailed by two points to Lovett at the half, but leadership took over in the second half and the Cherokees scored a 53-43 win. In the other matchup, Thomasville takes on Wesleyan. Thomasville is led by senior forward Bree Brown, who averages a double-double and scored 23 of her team’s 47 points in its 47-41 win over Westside. Wesleyan standout Katie Frerking notched 26 points, five rebounds, six steals and four blocks in the 66-49 quarterfinals win over Calhoun.
The semifinals consist of No. 3 overall seed St. Francis facing off with No. 2 Calvary Day in the early slot. St. Francis is an aggressive, pressing team that averages 11 steals per game. Senior Nettie Brown and sophomore Abby Grant average more than 13 points per game, while guard Candice Williams averages 12 points and five assists. Calvary Day has consistent scorers, but also boasts one of the most dangerous scorers in the state. Senior Alexus Parker, a Prairie View A&M-signee, averages 22.6 points and is coming off a season-high 38 points in the quarterfinal win. No. 4 Southwest Atlanta Christian plays No. 1 Holy Innocents’ in the late game. Holy Innocents’ has one of the most talented centers in the state in freshman Erika Cassell, who averages a double-double each game. The Golden Bears went to the foul line 25 times in their 58-43 quarterfinals win. Southwest Atlanta Christian’s offense is a high-powered machine that flew to a 41-9 halftime lead in the quarterfinals. Junior guard Marquita Daniels is coming off a 27-point outing and averages more than 12 per game. Center Alexis Carter tallied 11 blocks and 10 rebounds in the quarterfinals.
The Randolph-Clay Red Devils bring an 18-game winning streak and a 28-2 record into the semifinals against Wilkinson County. Head coach Jennifer Acree has two pairs of sisters that seem to push each other to being better each game. Kobi Thornton was the second-leading scorer with 14.2 points per game and scored 21 in the quarterfinal win over Mitchell County. Brianna Thornton scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds. Whenika Washington scored 16 points and her sister Kaneika notched 10, nearly five below her average. Adriana Blackmon is the point guard that runs the show. Wilkinson County is paced by a pair of juniors in Lyric Jordan and Ngozi Ware, who each average more than 10 points per game for coach Jenean Cooper-Bolston. Samford-signee Kassidy Blevins scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Gordon Lee to the program’s first semifinal appearance. Blevins has teamed with fellow senior Katie Barger all season to lead Gordon Lee to a 23-7 record. The Lady Trojans will face Towns County, a team they defeated 70-69 earlier this season. Towns County edged Claxton in the quarterfinals and is led by sophomore Stephanie Patton.
Stephen Black, Fletcher Proctor and Craig Sager II contributed to this report