by Rob Grubbs
The Sandy Creek boys (27-3) are headed to the Final Four for the third consecutive year after a complete team 69-43 victory Tuesday night against the Thomson Bulldogs (21-6).
Head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson constantly searches for defensive perfection from his team, and they came close during serval stretches of the contest as they completely shut down the athletic Bulldog team. The Patriots look to avenge last year’s one-point loss in the semifinal game to reach the state championship.
The first two minutes were a good indication of how the night would play out, as Sandy Creek took a quick 7-2 lead behind a 3-pointer from T.J. Bickerstaff and two dunks by Jabari Smith. It was obvious early on that Thomson was going to struggle with the two Patriot big men. The combo struck again to start the second quarter, this time Bickerstaff had the dunk and Smith added the three.
The Patriots began to stretch the lead out after halftime, and, after two Matt Williams free throws, they held a commanding 50-21 lead. Williams has become an unsung hero in the Patriots rotation. He is intelligent, quick, a tough defender, and can score if needed. All of this is not lost on Coach Nickerson.
“One word – warrior. I will ride with warriors all day long,” said Nickerson. “He is so tough minded and such a great kid. You win with guys like that. He doesn’t need the ball, he doesn’t need to score, he just wins.”
In the end, the Patriots won 69-43. They were led by Julian Alexander’s 18 points, while Bickerstaff, Smith, and Keith Williams all finished in double-figures. Another constant down the stretch for Sandy Creek has been the play of DeShon Procter who plays his role inside perfectly to complement the team.
Next up, the Patriots take the road to face the Americus-Sumter Panthers (25-4) at Ft. Valley State University today at 4 p.m.
The winner will face the victor of Woodward-Carver Columbus for the state championship on Friday, March 8 at 1 p.m. at the Macon Centerplex.
Unfortunately, the Sandy Creek Lady Patriots (25-4) were not able to join them team in the Final Four as they fell to the Luella Lady Lions 63-52.
Led by guard Keely Brown, the Lions proved to be a tough challenge to the Patriots. They would have to rely on their inside combination of Daija owell and Arielle Belinga to pound the paint and control the boards.
Luella countered with depth and tried to stop the entry passes inside. After falling behind by 17 in the third quarter, the Patriots started to put strong offensive possessions together, and, with 4:47 left in the game, they had pulled to with eight at 47-39. In the end, the Lions’ depth was too much for the valiant effort of the Lady Patriot starting five, who played virtually from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
The loss ended the careers of Fletcher Bazard, Paris Thompson, and Nina Lum. Under head coach Janie Hodges, the trio won 68 games in the past three seasons. Thompson led the Lady Patriots with 16 points, and Lum added 11 in their final games.
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