by Bella Millians
Tyrone’s teams are taking it to the Elite Eight. Thursday night, both Sandy Creek squads squashed the competition to advance again in the playoffs. The Lady Patriots bested the Dougherty Trojans in the opener, 68-51, and the boys surged late to roll the Baldwin Braves, 84-56.
The Lady Patriots started the game red-hot with a huge 18-0 run against Dougherty and never looked back. The six-player team showed again all they need is each other to keep winning.
“You’ve just got to come out swinging. Our backs are against the wall,” said Sandy Creek coach Janie Hodges. “People didn’t expect us to be here. It’s hard to win with just six people, so we’ve got to make a statement every time we step out on the floor, and the girls are starting to buy into that.”
Jania Hodges led a balanced attack in the first quarter with eight points, with Cayla Wheeler, Arielle Belinga, and Daija Powell also scoring as they held a commanding 18-4 lead. Ajanae Chatham and Janae Walker joined the party in the second quarter as the dominance continued, with Walker scoring six in the frame to lead 35-19 at halftime.
Belinga dominated the second half, thumping the Trojans with eight points in the third quarter as they extended the lead out to 51-38.
Doughtery tried to battle back down the stretch, but Sandy Creek’s post combo of Belinga and Powell was too much to contain. They combined for 14 of the team’s 17 points in the fourth quarter to seal the 68-51 victory.
Jania Hodges finished as the leading scorer with 21 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Belinga posted a monster double-double with 19 points and 18 rebounds. Powell tallied 16 points, followed by Walker with 7, Wheeler with 4, and Chatham with 1.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Patriots. Next up, they travel to face the 24-5 Luella Lions, led by the combo of senior guard Keely Brown (16.9 points per game, 7.4 rebounds), a Fresno State signee, and sophomore guard Paris Miller (14.8 points). Luella rolled through the first two rounds over Upson-Lee (72-18) and Gilmer (56-31).
Revenge will be on the Patriots’ minds. Last year, Luella knocked them out in the quarterfinals, 63-52.
“We’re searching for Final Fours and state championships, so we’ve got to stay focused and understand that Luella is a good team,” said Coach Hodges. “They put us out last year, and we don’t want a repeat.”
The Sandy Creek boys checked off another box on their pursuit of a state championship with an 84-56 win over the Baldwin Braves. Baldwin kept it close for three quarters before the Patriots exploded for 32 points in the fourth quarter to put it away.
“They gave us everything they had, and our guys did a great job of continuing to move the ball and trusting one another, and finally we opened it up,” said Sandy Creek coach Jon-Michael Nickerson. “We got them real spaced out, and that opened up the paint. We asserted our will after that, and the bottom dropped out.”
Jabari Smith helped the Patriots jump on an early lead with the first seven points of the game. He added a 3-pointer and Darryl Rice sank a pair of treys as they built up an 18-11 first quarter lead.
Smith opened the second with a dunk, and Destin Jenkins scored five-straight as the momentum kept rolling. They capped the half off with a bang, as Rice leapt up for a steal and fed Matt Williams for a three-point play and a 33-19 halftime lead.
Smith continued to frustrate the Braves in the third quarter, scoring on a variety of shots with a 3-pointer, a baby hook, and another dunk sparked by a Williams chase-down block. Baldwin would not go away though, trimming the deficit down to 52-41 heading to the fourth.
Baldwin’s attempt to come back during the third lit a fire under the Patriots. They shut down all hope during the fourth with a 32-point outburst. Williams opened the scoring with a trey, and Rice hit a 3-pointer and ensuing free throw for a rare four-point play. They added a flourish with Immanuel Alexander’s flashy no-look pass to Deshon Proctor for a dunk to run the lead back past 20 points. Shane Erkins added a late 3-pointer as they pulled away to win 84-56.
Jabari Smith led the way with a double-double of 29 points and 15 rebounds. Rice followed with 17 points, Proctor with 14, Williams with 10 Jenkins with 7, Erkins with 3, and DJ Person and Brian Branch with 2 apiece.
Next in their pursuit of a fourth-straight Final Four trip, the Patriots face a fearsome foe on the road in the 27-2 Woodward Academy War Eagles. They plowed through Spalding (77-46) and Madison County (70-39) in their first two wins. Woodward is led by 7’0” center Walker Kessler, a North Carolina signee, and junior guard Will Richard, a transfer from Fayette County High.