When three teams finished with the same record in region play during the regular season, Veterans head coach Greg Nix knew his team would likely face either Howard or Mary Persons.
If he could pick his opponent, Nix probably wouldn’t have selected the Huskies, who were hosting the tournament, or the Bulldogs, who entered the tournament with the region’s hottest team. The Warhawks drew Mary Persons.
“Both tough opponents, but everyone in this region is capable of winning the tournament,” Nix said. “You’re going to have to lace them up sooner or later against those guys.”
Veterans (15-11) held off a second-half charge from the Bulldogs on Wednesday to come away with a 73-68 win in the quarterfinals of the GHSA Region 2-AAA tournament at Howard. The victory gives the Warhawks their first-ever state playoff berth. Mary Persons’ season is over one year after the Bulldogs won the region championship with largely the same group of players.
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Jonathan Robertson scored 15 points and Jabari Leggette added 14 for the Warhawks. Mary Persons junior Brannen Greene led all scorers with 31 points.
Veterans led by 21 points late in the second quarter following a 14-3 run punctuated by sharp shooting and dominance on the offensive boards.
Mary Persons, however, made a late charge at the end of the first half thanks to a 10-0 run by Greene. The junior’s 3-pointer at the buzzer cut Veterans’ lead to 11 at the half.
The Bulldogs (16-10) continued to cut into the lead for much of the third quarter, extending that 10-0 run to a 21-2 run that pulled them to within two early in the third quarter.
Mary Persons, which won five straight entering the region tournament, traded baskets with Veterans for much of the next 10 minutes. The Warhawks answered each Bulldogs’ basket, and they only lost the lead for about 50 seconds in the fourth quarter.
Leggette’s 3-pointer with 2:44 gave the Warhawks the lead for good, and the team made all four free throws in the final 38 seconds to seal the win.
Westside 63, Peach County 56
The Seminoles trailed for a good portion of the second half, but junior Ronnie Mays stepped up with a perfect free-throw shooting performance in the fourth quarter to earn the win.
Mays made all seven free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, and he scored nine of his 19 points in the final quarter to lead Westside to its first 20-win season since 2000.
The Seminoles (20-6) took their first lead of the fourth quarter on a putback by Mays with 4:27 to play in the game. They never trailed again, although the Trojans (11-12) got to within three points with 15 seconds to play. Duran Porter, however, made two free throws to seal the win.
“Our goal was just to survive,” Westside head coach Josh Grube said. “Survive and advance and get into the state tournament.”
Central 72, Rutland 70
Joshua Evins scored 21 points to help Central avoid a second straight loss in the quarterfinals as a top seed.
The Chargers trailed by 10 points at halftime, and they didn’t take the lead for good until midway through the fourth quarter.
“It’s a huge relief,” Central head coach Andre Taylor said. “We’re in the state playoffs now. We can just focus on basketball.”
Taylor said Evins took control in the locker room during the half. The guard also took control with three 3-pointers in the guard quarter. He scored 15 points in the second half. Takori Clark also came up big, scoring 14 points in the second half. As the top seed a year ago, Central lost in the opening round last year to the ninth-seeded Peach County Trojans.
Rutland played with a healthy dose of emotion after one of its starters, Dallas Smith, suffered a leg injury before the start of the game. Smith slipped during pregame warm-ups, and he stayed on the floor for nearly 25 minutes as trainers tended to him.
He was placed in a neck brace as a precaution, Rutland officials said, before being wheeled to an ambulance with his leg in an air cast.
Howard 59, Baldwin 43
Howard overcame a poor shooting performance in the first half to pull away from Baldwin in a win.
The third-seeded Huskies (16-10) got off to a quick start, but they struggled to make jump shots over the final 10 minutes of the first half.
That changed in the fourth quarter, when the Huskies put up 24 points to ensure a second consecutive state playoff appearance.
Cameron Dacus led the Huskies with 11 points, while Devonte Dumas and Brandon Glover each scored 10 points. Roshaun Miline and Marquise Williams each scored 10 points for the Braves.
Howard plays Westside in the semifinals on Friday.