ALBANY — Just when Terrell Academy, Crisp Academy and Westwood School had gotten permanent reservations at Georgia College and State University, the GISA Final Four venue up and left town.
All three are back for the semifinals in 2013, only this time they’ll be invading Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena.
The change of scenery won’t be a problem for the trio of Southwest Georgia powerhouses. Crisp Academy will be trying to become the first Class A school ever to win three consecutive state titles; Terrell Academy has become a household name at the Final Four with nine straight trips, including six consecutive appearances in the state title game in Class A and AA; and Westwood is also in its third straight Final Four in search of the school’s first girls’ basketball state championship.
Goodbye Milledgeville. Hello Macon.
“We got used to playing in Milledgeville,” Lady Eagles’ head coach Keith Jones said. “We always talked about, ‘We’re going home.’ Milledgeville was our home. They moved it to Mercer and our philosophy since the region tournament has been, ‘Let’s go and make a new home.’ ”
Terrell Academy (21-8) has its hands full today at Mercer with a 5:30 p.m. meeting against Arlington Christian, which has won four consecutive state championships in AA and AAA combined and previously carried a 100-game, regular-season win streak. After winning the last two titles at the highest GISA level, Arlington Christian returned to AA this season in search of its fifth consecutive title with plenty of firepower.
Ana Anderson, a 6-foot-3 center and Mercer signee, leads Arlington (19-4) along with guard Larisa Bishop, who has a scholarship from Belmont Abbey. Terrell Academy’s 6-foot-1 sophomore center Marilauren Farr, the team’s leading scorer at 17 points a game, will be key in matching up with Anderson inside the paint.
“I think she’ll hold her own,” Jones said. “She’s just going to have to meet (Anderson) up high and not let her go where she wants to go. She’s just going to have to be really physical with her.”
The Lady Eagles from Dawson (Arlington Christian is also the Lady Eagles) have shooters to match on the perimeter, though. Maura Milliron and Lauren Barfield combined to score 39 points in the quarterfinals to knock off Trinity Christian.
“I think we’re going to have some open shots,” Jones said. “Those two have had some really good ballgames the last two weeks. I feel like they’re going to have a lot of opportunities (today).”
The Terrell-Arlington winner will face the Gatewood-Westwood winner Saturday at 3:20 p.m. in the Class AA state title. If it’s anybody’s turn to win the whole thing, it’s Westwood. The Lady Wildcats of Camilla lost to the Crisp Academy Lady Wildcats of Cordele in the Class A state title game the past two seasons, but Westwood won’t have to deal with Crisp after moving to Class AA this year.
Instead, they get defending Class AA champ Gatewood (26-1) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. today at Mercer. The Lady Gators have been to the past three state title games, winning state once in AA last season against Terrell and once in AAA.
Westwood (21-3) has lost only to Crisp Academy twice and Class AAA Mount de Sales this season and has been led by senior Ivy Foister, junior Morgan Singleton and freshman Callie Smith. Cross country star Perra Harrell, The Herald’s reigning Player of the Year, gave the Lady Wildcats a huge boost in the quarterfinals with 19 points in a win against Flint River.
The matchup with Gatewood will be one of the best today at Mercer, even from an opposing coach’s view.
“That’s going to be really a good game,” said Terrell’s Jones, whose team has lost to Westwood handily in three meetings this season — but would like nothing more than a fourth shot in the finals. “They run two totally different offenses. Gatewood runs more sets and Westwood is like us — they just run five out and move the ball and say beat your man.”
The team nobody below Class AAA has been able to beat has been Gina Mitchell’s Crisp Academy Lady Wildcats. Crisp (29-2), the overwhelming favorite to three-peat in Class A, has lost only to Class AAA Bulloch Academy and Tattnall Square, whom the Lady Wildcats split with during the regular season. Crisp Academy’s last loss to a Class A school was Nov. 30, 2010 to Terrell Academy. The Lady Wildcats enter the Final Four on a 21-game winning streak.
Crisp faces a 14-14 Curtis Baptist team at 1 p.m. today in the Final Four that needed overtime to beat the No. 4 seed (Highland Christian) from Crisp’s Region 3-A in the first round.
“They’ve got some good guards,” said Mitchell, who has won two state titles in just three years in Cordele. “They like to play man and they like to press.”
Mitchell also added — and this is a problem for Curtis Baptist — “They’re not that tall.”
That means Lady Wildcats’ junior post and Herald Super 6er Madi Mitchell could have a field day. Mitchell scored 31 in a quarterfinal win and has eclipsed 2,500 points for her career — with a senior season to go. Crisp, however, will be without injured all-state, junior point guard Kayla Childers today, although Gina Mitchell said freshman Parker Krause has filled in nicely.
The Crisp-Curtis Baptist winner will face the Citizens Christian-Georgia Christian winner Saturday at noon for the Class A state title.