Saturday September 23rd, 2017 3:25AM

8-AAAA tournament: Johnson boys, Chestatee girls move back to title games

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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SUGAR HILL -- Jeff Steele already knows his team's impressive ability to fluster opponents and score in bunches.

Now he just wants to see that more of that -- preferably starting with Tuesday's Region 8-AAAA championship game.

"We wear people down, and our spurt-ability is something special -- we just have to be more consistent, especially on defense," said Steele, whose Knights earned the right to play for the 8-AAAA crown on Monday courtesy an 84-61 semifinal defeat of Lumpkin County at Lanier High in Sugar Hill.

"We're going to have play better than we did tonight to win it. Hopefully we'll be pretty motivated."

Johnson (22-5) certainly looked motivated in the first and third quarters on Monday.

The Knights opened the contest with a 17-6 run and then put it out of reach via a 14-2 surge at the end of the third quarter to clinch their second straight 8-AAAA championship game appearance. Johnson will face the Eastside/Walnut Grove winner -- Eastside was the only team to defeat the Knights in region play this season -- for the title at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lanier.

"They go to the glass really well and make you play," Steele said of the Eagles.

Johnson had little trouble with rebounds on Monday, pulling down 27 boards, as opposed to just 16 for Lumpkin County, but it was the Knights defensive pressure and transition scoring that made the difference early and late, forcing five turnovers each in the first and third quarter.

Ty Cockfield forced a number of those turnovers, turning them into instant offense, as he led all scorers with 19 points. James Hodges also put up 18 for the Knights, while Justin Jones and Carter Cagle each scored 16 -- 10 of Cagle's points coming in the second quarter. Rod English also chipped in with 11.

"I was glad to see Carter break out there," Steele said. "He's been a little frustrated the past couple of games, and he can do so much to stretch a defense and give our offense a big weapon."

Cagle dropped two of his three 3-pointers in the second quarter to help Johnson maintain its lead in the face of a determined Lumpkin County push, as Malik Anderson and Daniel McCrary each sank key baskets to pull as close as five points.

"I hope that was a lesson learned for our team, because I don't think they took Lumpkin as serious as they should have," Steele said. "They're a good team that's well prepared, and this is tournament time. Anything can happen."

Johnny Gilreath finished with 15 for Lumpkin County, while Anderson and Austin Holman each added 11. McCrary scored nine points.

Johnson came out strong, racing ahead 17-6 on Justin Jones' 3-pointer with 2:03 left in the first quarter as their pressure on defense and pace in transition kept Lumpkin County off balance. Cockfield proved especially difficult for the Indians, as the Knights standout put up eight points in the first quarter.

But the Indians regained their composure before the half and fired back into the contest on back-to-back baskets by McCrary at 21-15 just a minute into the second quarter.

Lumpkin pulled as close as 35-30 on a McCrary 3-pointer with 1:32 left in the half, only to watch Johnson regain control with a 6-0 push heading into the interval -- Hodges' lay-in yielding a 41-30 lead.

Lumpkin County pulled its way back within five points again after the interval -- but it was as close as the Indians would get, as Johnson cruised to toward the championship game.

The Indians will play at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the 8-AAAA third place contest against Walnut Grove/Eastside.


The Lady War Eagles remember last year's Region 8-AAAA championship game.

After Monday's semifinal defeat of Stephens County, Chestatee is looking for a little redemption.

"We didn't play well, and the girls want to perform better than that this time around," said Lady War Eagles coach Web Daniel, whose team fell to Madison County 54-26 in last year's 8-AAAA championship game.

Chestatee will take on Eastside this time around at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lanier.

"We're not shocked they're there; they're a good team, and they're tough, athletic and long," Daniel said. "We're going to have to play and hit our outside shots."

Hitting shots came at a premium for both teams in Monday's semifinal.

The Lady War Eagles (23-4) led 5-0 after the first quarter and 13-10 at the half before pulling away down the stretch -- a seven-day layoff from last week's heavy snows taking its toll.

"It was tough; it kind of got the girls out of shape a little, and we've also got some injuries we're dealing with, but it is what it is," Daniel said. "We just had to dig down and fight."

Tyler Bennett certainly showed plenty of fight. The Lady War Eagles standout put up two crucial baskets in the second quarter to answer Stephens County's one and only lead of the contest at 9-8 and finished the contest with a game-high 13 points.

Bridgette Kelly also scored eight points for the Lady War Eagles, while Kayla Watson and Savanna Long each added five points.

Chestatee finally began to distance itself in the third quarter, going on a 7-1 run that included a Deanna Bradberry 3-pointer for a 20-13 advantage. Thanks to Chestatee's rebounding, Stephens County never got much closer.

Nikelsa Owens and Dresha Merritt each scored seven, while Lexie Cash and Shequanna Holden each added six points for the Lady Indians.

Stephens County will face Walnut Grove in the third place game at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Sugar Hill.
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