Saturday April 20th, 2024 12:00AM

Basketball playoffs: Lakeview teams look for 1st-ever finals berths

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Both programs have been here before. And both would love to see what it looks like on the other side.

The Lakeview Academy boys and girls both will be in action in the GIAA Class 3A semifinals on Wednesday at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. It’s the same spot both teams were in back in 2017.

But what new first-year coaches Ken Huffman and Benjie Wood both want is for a different outcome than in 2017. Back then, neither could get past the semifinal round in the GHSA Class A Private.

Huffman brings in his top-seeded Lady Lions (25-1) against fifth-seed Terrell Academy (20-5). Wood takes in a third-seeded Lions team (24-5) against No. 2-seed St. Andrews (22-7). The winners will move on to Friday’s finals at Columbus State.

The good news for the Lady Lions as they try to punch a ticket into the program’s first-ever championship game is that most of the current roster was part of last year’s disappointing 67-59 loss to Deerfield-Windsor in the semifinals, including Dynesty Putman, Taliah Gaither, and Ashlyn Henderson.

“I think last year's experience allowed us to create a different approach to each game this season, not just the playoffs,” said Huffman, who was an assistsnt on the team last season. “It's worked so far this year so hopefully we can keep it up.”

Their only loss came to GHSA Class A Division 1 second-ranked Athens Christian, who is in the GHSA Class A Division 1 semifinals, in early January. Since then, they have reeled off 14 straight wins. Before that loss, the Lady Lions already had checked off a program-first box in winning the Lanierland tournament.

Huffman said being able to close out a tournament win may have been one of the final missing pieces as they chase a state title. He also knows he will face a Lady Eagles program that improved from a six-seed in 2023 to No. 3 in 2024 and from a second round loss to the semifinals this season.

“(Winning Lanierland) helped tremendously,” he said. “That provided a foundation for our team to draw upon as far as...facing future pressure games.

“I've watched (Terrell Academy) on film and also a live game. Those kids can shoot at every position. We will have to communicate defensively for four quarters in order to slow them down.”

The key may come down to the Lakeview offense against the Lady Eagles defense. The Lady Lions are averaging just under 60 points/game while Terrell Academy is yielding just 33.3 ppg on the season.

Huffman said his group has seen just about everything you can during a regular season against a tough schedule. Now it will come down to execution.

“The collective experience of the returning players has created a more seasoned and resilient team, which I think has made them better equipped to handle competition and adapt to various game situations,” he said.

For the boys, they face a supremely tough task in a St. Andrew’s squad that is the two-time defending GIAA Class 3A state champions. Wood, who has led both Gainesville (2018) and Buford (2022) into GHSA title games, said the Savannah-based team can play in any league. 

St. Andrew’s went 8-5 against bigger GHSA programs during the regular season, including handing Class 3A No. 6 Hebron Christian its first loss of the season at the time.

“St. Andrews is a very good basketball team. The notion that GIAA teams can’t play with GHSA teams is false,” Wood said.  “They are talented and very well coached. Our kids understand that this will be a very difficult task, but it’s supposed to be in the Final Four.”

A young roster with only two seniors, several new players, and a new coach coming into the season, there were a lot of unknowns for Lakeview. But newcomers like junior forward Tayden Ware and sophomore Mekhi Barber have provided the Lions with the talent to make their deepest playoff run since 2017.

Wood said it hasn’t come without its difficulties.

“Quite honestly we are still a work in progress,” he said. “We see flashes of what I think we can be. Our youth has led to a lot of inconsistencies. While we are working on that, our kids have bought into playing extremely hard and fighting through the moments where things don’t go our way.

“But while our guys are young, they are talented. We’ve had eight different leading scorers. The good thing is you can’t focus on one guy on our team.”

While a win on Wednesday would mark a program first and the opportunity to play for a state title, Wood said it’s about more than just one or two games.

“Right now we are focused on the here and now. We're just focused on doing our jobs and winning one moment at a time," he said. "But we are very excited about the future of this program."

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports
  • Associated Tags: High school basketball, Lakeview boys basketball, Lakeview girls basketball
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