16 teams in county qualify for state
There is no 58-game winning streak to cloud the vision and weigh on the minds of the Redan girls basketball team this time.
There is only clarity.
Redan was the Class AAAAA runner-up last season after falling in the state title game to Norcross and watching its winning streak come to an end. This year, however, coach Jerry Jackson has watched his team evolve and grow closer after winning the final two games of the Region 6-AAAA tournament in the final seconds.
“This year it has been easier to focus,” Jackson said. “Last year there was so much pressure to keep the winning streak going. I think the region tournament brought them closer together as a team. If you’re in a battle like we were, you’ve got to trust each other.”
That bond helped the Raiders win the region title and become one of 16 teams in the county to qualify for the state basketball tournament, which begins Feb. 25. At least one team has made the field in each of the five classifications.
In addition to the Redan girls, St. Pius and Stephenson also won girls region titles, and Southwest DeKalb and Columbia won boys region titles.
The Redan girls are making their 12th straight appearance in the state tournament, but two teams expected to challenge for the girls AAAA state title were eliminated in the region tournament. No. 1 and previously unbeaten Chamblee lost to Miller Grove and three-time defending AAAA champion Southwest DeKalb was eliminated by Carver Atlanta.
Miller Grove, which lost to Redan in the 6-AAAA finals, is making its second trip to state in the seven-year history of the school.
Stone Mountain, which finished third in Region 5-AAA, is making its first appearance in the girls tournament since 2007. St. Pius won 5-AAA for its first region title since 2007 and first state appearance since 2008.
For Redan, more depth this season also has Jackson optimistic. In addition to seniors Kierra Paige and Aneesah Daniels, Jackson has four freshmen that he uses regularly. One, Brea Elmore, made game-winning baskets in the final seconds against both Miller Grove and Mays in the region tournament.
“We couldn’t really go to the bench last year,” Jackson said. “But now we have these freshmen who can play late in the game and produce. Our level of play doesn’t change when we go to the bench.”
On the boys side, Southwest DeKalb heads into the AAAA state tournament as the No. 1 seed from 6-AAAA after upsetting No. 1 Miller Grove in the region final. The Panthers are in state for the first time since 2006 and haven’t made it past the second round since 1998.
First-year Panthers coach Dwayne McKinney can see a change in his team since they lost to Miller Grove by 32 points in December. The loss came four games after scoring 100 points in each of their first two games of the season. Earlier this month the Panthers lost again to the Wolverines, but this time by only three points.
“I was a little lax with them and gave them too much rope earlier,” McKinney said. “I think they’re mentally tougher now. We had some tough games over Christmas break and I think we saw where we could be during that time.”
Southwest DeKalb and Columbia have benefitted from underclassmen stepping up in the postseason. At Southwest, juniors Jordan Price and William Goodwin have dominated, while sophomore point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen performed well for the Eagles in the region tournament.
“We’re approaching state one game at a time and focusing on the first round right now,” said Columbia coach Phil McCrary, who has led the Eagles to two straight state titles. “Our depth is always strong and we always try to get great support from our bench.”