Prep Basketball: Party's over for local teams after first-round losses
BY DOUG GORMAN
Local high school basketball teams might have received invitations to this year's state basketball tournament, but that doesn't mean they stayed long at the party.
The East Coweta High School and Heritage School girls, as well as the Newnan and Northgate boys, all lost in the first round of their tournaments, putting an end to their respective seasons that had its share of ups and downs for all four teams.
At East Coweta and Northgate, it was the end of an era for both teams as both head coaches announced their retirement. For Paula Jones, the 59-23 loss to Alcovy ends four decades of coaching, including 25 at East Coweta.
Northgate coach Mack Cain ends his coaching career after more than three decades. His career officially came to an end with a 64-47 loss to Northside-Columbus. The Vikings finished their season with a 9-18 record.
Newnan ended its season on a sour note, falling to Morrow 63-54 in the Class AAAAAA Tournament.
The Heritage School girls' exit came in emotional fashion, losing in the first round of the GISA Class AAA tournament to Calvary Christian at the buzzer 36-34.
Despite a disappointing loss to Morrow in a game where Newnan shot itself in the foot with double figures in turnovers, it wasn't all bad for the Cougars this season.
After finishing just 14-15 last year and sneaking into the state tournament, this season there was little doubt the team was going to advance to the big dance.
Newnan (17-12) won 17 games this season and played for the Region 3-AAAAA title before being upset by Tri-Cities.
The Cougars closed the regular season with overtime victories over Langston Hughes and rival East Coweta, and then beat the Indians again to start the region tournament. That second straight win over East Coweta assured the team its place in the state tournament.
The Cougars should be in good shape when they return to the court next year with most of their key personnel returning.
Newnan will have a size advantage over most of its opponents, with Immanuel Griggs and Jannson Williams returning to control things in the lane for the Cougars.
Griggs is 6-foot-8, and heads back to the Cougars after averaging in double figures this season. Griggs was also a shot blocker for the Cougars.
Williams just completed his freshman year, but at 6-6 is already a threat to catch the ball, turn and shoot on offense, and block shots on defense.
Doniel Dean will also be back for his senior year after leading the team in scoring. Dean is able to dribble the ball into the lane and score on layups, or connect on jump shots, including from 3-point territory.
One of head coach Rod Ladd's biggest challenges next season will be replacing guards Kaceon Person and Darrell Morrow.
The two guards have been solid ball-handlers for the Cougars throughout their careers.
"We have a good nucleus of players coming back next year," Ladd said.
At Northgate, the Vikings struggled at times this year but still made history with the school's first-ever trip to the state tournament.
The Vikings earned their piece of history with a 40-33 win over McIntosh in the Region 4-AAAAA tournament. Northgate then lost to Whitewater and Starr's Mill to earn a fourth seed at the state tournament. Adrian Tolbert added 15 points to lead the Vikings in their final game. Luke Motzel tossed in 10.
In addition to Jones coaching her last game at East Coweta, three seniors – Ciarra Davison, Jasmine Williams and Lexy Zelczak – played in their final high school games.
East Coweta will be led next year by Ayanna Reid and Eboni Williams. Both players started as ninth-graders for the Indians this year.