Friday April 19th, 2024 11:13PM

Girls basketball playoffs: 6 NEGa area teams look for Final 4 berths

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Six northeast Georgia area teams are still alive, and more than kicking, in the Georgia High School Association girls basketball playoffs. Five will be at home on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round with more than a fair chance to get into the Final Four, spanning five different classifications.

Two of those teams -- Buford in Class 7A and Banks County in Class 2A -- are looking for return trips after making the semifinals in 2023. Rabun County in Class A Division 1 is looking to return to the semifinals for the first time since making the Class 2A title game in 2022. North Forsyth in Class 6A is looking for its first semifinal appearance since 2019 (Class 7A). Chestatee in Class 4A is looking for its first-ever Final Four.

White County, meanwhile, is on the road in Class 3A against Monroe. Neither team has made a Final Four in the modern playoff era. The Lady Tornadoes are in their first Elite 8 since 2015 (Class 4A), while the Lady Warriors are in their first Elite 8 since 1984 (Class 2A).

Banks County coach Steve Shedd, whose Lady Leopards lost to Mount Paran in the 2023 2A finals, is putting that experience to good use so far. They have allowed just 46 points (23 points/game) so far in their first two playoff games as they get ready to play host to Josey in a rematch of last year’s semifinal showdown.

Both teams are rolling. Josey is 26-3. Banks County is 25-4 and has won 18 straight.

“I think having so much experience returning from last year's team definitely helped to prepare for this season,” Shedd said. “They know what it takes to be successful.

“Once you get to this point in the state playoffs, every team you face is extremely talented. It forces teams to defend in a variety of different ways and constantly make adjustments. The key against teams like Josey is that we must control the tempo of the game and not allow them to.”

Chestatee is back in the Elite 8 for a second straight postseason and is in the exact same spot as in 2023, where they eventually lost to state champion Griffin at home. The Lady War Eagles (25-5) will be at the Lynn Cottrell Center taking on Fayette County (23-4) looking for their first-ever Final Four.

Chestatee coach Sutton Shirley said the key to being able to keep moving forward is a simple one for his experienced group: “Embrace the pressure. Enjoy the moment. Make shots.”

The Lady War Eagles have plenty of experience, and they have Riley Black, who has been unstoppable since the Region 8-4A tournament. But Shirley said they will continue to need everyone on the roster to contribute. And they will need to find a way to slow down a taller Fayette County team.

“They have a couple of post players that will be match-up problems for us. We are going to have to be very disciplined in our help rotations,” he said. “Our girls have played a lot of big games against talented teams. They've played in front of crowds like we will see (tonight). They are prepared for this moment.”

North Forsyth (29-0) is one of just two unbeaten teams left in all of the GHSA (Grayson) and recently won its seventh consecutive region title. However, Friday’s second-round win over Sequoyah ended a two-year streak of frustrating losses in the Sweet 16.

“The girls knew that the second round was the one that has stopped us these past two seasons, but it’s not something we openly focused on,” North Forsyth coach Brad Kudlas said.

The Lady Raiders face a difficult task on Tuesday, taking on Woodward Academy (24-5), which is into its fourth Elite 8 in the past five years, including capturing back-to-back Class 5A state titles in 2021 and 2022.

“Woodward is a tremendously successful opponent, and we have a high respect for them,” Kudlas said. “Regardless of the year, they have great athletes and a solid team, and we don’t expect this year to be any different. We’re ready for the challenge.

“We’re 12 strong.  Sure, there are statistical leaders like London Weaver, Gabbie Gliatta, and Lindsey Pirkle, but we’re a collective unit.  This isn’t possible without 12 girls working as a group every single day.”

For White County, it has been an up-and-down campaign for first-year head coach Zuquinnta Moss. The Lady Warriors (22-8) opened the season 13-1, only to drop six of eight in the heart of their Region 7-3A schedule. Now, they have won seven of their last eight coming into Tuesday’s showdown with Monroe in Albany.

The road trip is a long one (four-plus hours covering 263 miles), but Moss said his group should be ready after opening the playoffs with a road win over Ringgold.

“The biggest thing is just having fun,” Moss said. “Playing together and playing for each other is the key. We’ve had a lot of different players step up on different nights. They just need to play hard and score the basketball.”

But this is also new territory for the Lady Tornadoes (20-9), who are in their first Elite 8 since 2015.

Rabun County is peaking at the right time in Class A Division 1. The Lady Wildcats (23-6) are no stranger to deep playoff success after runs to the Class 2A state title game in 2017 and 2022.

They knocked off No. 3 Athens Christian in the Region 8-A D1 finals and have a pair of double-digit wins in the first two rounds. They play host to Region 3-A D1 champion Bryan County (26-3), who has won 11 straight and owns the most wins in Class A D1. But Rabun County has not lost at home since No. 18, riding a 9-game win streak in Tiger.

In Class 7A, Buford (26-3) plays host to North Paulding (24-6) at The Buford Arena. Buford knocked off the Lady Wolfpack at home back in November (62-49) but North Paulding is riding a 7-game win streak, including going 10-1 on the road since its loss to the Lady Wolves.

North Paulding is into the quarterfinals for a second consecutive season but has never made a Final Four.

(Below is the full schedule of playoff games on Tuesday and Wednesday for teams in the AccessWDUN coverage area.)

GEORGIA HIGH SCHOOL ASSOCIATION PLAYOFFS
QUARTERFINAL ROUND, Tuesday, Feb. 27
GIRLS
CLASS 7A

North Paulding (Region 3, Seed 1) at Buford (R8, S1), 6 p.m. -- WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM

CLASS 6A
Woodward Academy (R3, S1) at North Forsyth (R8, S1), 6 p.m.

CLASS 4A
Fayette County (R4, S2) at Chestatee (R8, S1), 6:30 p.m. -- 94.5 FM The Lake

CLASS 3A
White County (R7, S3) at Monroe (R1, S2), 6 p.m.

CLASS 2A
Josey (R4, S2) at Banks County (R8, S1), 6:30 p.m.

CLASS A DIVISION 1
Bryan County (R3, S1) at Rabun County (R8, S1), 6 p.m.


GIAA CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS (at GCSU, Milledgeville)
Wednesday, Feb. 28
Lakeview Academy boys (3) vs. St. Andrew's (2), 4:30 p.m.
Lakeview Academy girls (1) vs. Terrell Academy (5), 6 p.m.

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