Three of their players scored 20 points as St. Francis vanquished an old rival on Saturday and earned a chance to win its third straight state championship.
The Knights (23-7) slammed Whitefield Academy 81-58 on Saturday in the Class A Private boys semifinal at Kennesaw State and earned a trip to the title game for the fourth straight season.
St. Francis will play Greenforest for the championship on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at the Macon Coliseum in a rematch of last year’s game won by the Knights.
“We lost four starters from last year’s team,” coach Andrew Catlett said. “There were times when it wasn’t smoot for them. But the guys stayed together and we’ve gotten some contributions from guys who didn’t play a lot last year.”
It was the third time St. Francis has beaten Whitefield Academy this season, but both previous meetings were quite different. St. Francis won those games by five and two points. The semifinal game appeared to be headed in the same direction for much of the first quarter.
The game was tied 20-20 after Whitefield’s Jimmy McCarthy made a basket early in the second period.
But the closeness didn’t last for long. St. Francis went on a 10-0 run that gave the Knights the separation they needed. And alley-oop slam and another basket by Simmons started the stretch, with Anthony Showell adding a 3-pointer and Avery Showell scoring on a rebound that gave St. Francis a 33-23 lead.
“I challenged our guys, you’ve got start locking up,” Catlett said. “Starting the second quarter we didn’t play particularly well the first two or three minutes, but we responded and that goes back to all the adversity we went through during the year. We didn’t panic, we kept our composure and started making some plays to get the lead to 10 at halftime.”
Simmons didn’t come close to the 45 he posted on Friday, but his 24 points included three dunks and some stylish passes. Showell finished the game with 22 points and Chance Anderson added 23 points.
Whitefield Academy (20-11) was led by Florida A&M signee Brendon Myles with 23 points and Isaiah Hart with 21.
St. Francis beat Whitefield four times last season and defeated the Wolfpack in the 2013-14 championship game.
“It came down to our defending, rebound, getting 50-50 balls,” Catlett said “It’s a simple gameplan – defense, rebound and on offense share the ball, make the extra pass, finish the layup when you get a chance. But your mindset has to be defend and rebound. We’ve gotten better the last couple of weeks.”
Lady Knight #1, Michel Tampa
A Private girls: St. Francis 62, SACA 38
St. Francis will get a chance to defend its state title.
The girls won their 17th straight game and secured a spot in the Class A Private championship game with a 62-38 win over Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy on Saturday at Kennesaw State.
St. Francis will meet the winner of the Greenforest vs. Eagle’s Landing Christian game for the title. The championship game will be at 11 a.m. on March 5 at the Macon Coliseum.
“It’s a big deal … it’s very hard to go back-to-back,” St. Francis coach Aisha Kennedy said. “Now we’ve got to take it one quarter at a time and play our game.”
St. Francis (30-1) was led by junior point guard Taja Cummings, who attacked the basket all game and came away with 25 points.
“Our point guard really stepped up and played well,” coach Aisha Kennedy said. “We’ve having a lot of conversations about she can do and I think she’s buying in.”
The Knights also got 14 points each from forward Jala Jordan and 10 points from guard Maya Dodson.
Southwest Atlanta Christian (17-12) was led by Chyna Cotton with 15 points and point guard Tiamya Butler with 13. The Warriors, who only have six players on the roster, were forced to play with four players after Butler and center Dominique Banks fouled out.
St. Francis led 12-9 after one quarter and began to run away in the second, starting with a 3-pointer from Kori McDaniels on the first possession. Taja Cummings had 11 points at halftime, including a 3-pointer, and the Knights outscored SACA 13-3 to take a 25-12 halftime lead.
The Knights stretched the lead to 41-22 after three periods and Southwest was unable to substantially close the margin.