For the eighth straight season a basketball squad wearing red and black won the Georgia Independent Schools Association Region 3-AAA title, but this year's trophy presentation left the Augusta Christian Lions feeling blue.
George Walton Academy beat the Lions 51-48 in the region finals last week at Augusta State University's Christenberry Fieldhouse, where the Bulldogs ended AC's seven-year reign as region champions.
"It had to end sometime," Augusta Christian coach Marty Griffin said. "I don't think the streak entered our minds during the game, but winning another region title just wasn't in the cards."
The Lions didn't lose because of poor play. Augusta Christian took a 26-20 lead into halftime Friday on the strength of what Griffin called, "maybe our best first half of the season."
AC senior Mark Herrmann drilled a pair of three-pointers in the first half, and Adam McKinney added a three-pointer in the second quarter. Warren Chapman's spin move and bucket capped the first half to give the Lions a six-point lead.
Midway through the third quarter, Augusta Christian went up 34-24 and appeared to be cruising to an eighth-consecutive crown.
That's when Dominique Whatley took over. George Walton's senior center scored 12 straight points to give the Bulldogs a 36-34 advantage, and AC would never regain the lead.
"They began to post Whatley up, and he dominated," Griffin said. "By the time we adjusted, they had the lead. Once Coach (George) Perides gets the lead, you're in trouble."
Perides uses a four-corners offense to protect leads, and that's exactly what happened last week. Though AC defended the four-corners well, the Lions couldn't capitalize with points at the other end.
When the final buzzer sounded, AC had been dethroned, and George Walton's players were climbing a ladder to cut down the nets at both ends of the court. The George Walton girls topped John Milledge Academy in the other title game.
In early region tournament play, Augusta Prep's teams won their first-round games to secure spots in the GISA Class AAA state tournament. The Cavaliers and Lady Cavs proceeded to drop their next two tournament games and both squads settled for a No. 4 seed in the state playoffs.
The Augusta Christian girls, meanwhile, beat Augusta Prep 38-37 in overtime Friday to claim the region's No. 3 seed.
The GISA state playoffs begin with girls action today in Macon. Augusta Christian plays Stratford Academy, and Augusta Prep plays Central Fellowship.
The boys brackets tip off Thursday in Macon. Augusta Prep takes on First Presbyterian Day, and Augusta Christian opens against Tattnall Square Academy.
For the Lions, there is a silver lining in last week's loss. The last time Augusta Christian didn't win region, the team went on to capture the first GISA basketball championship in school history.
The Lions need two wins in the state tournament to earn a trip to Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, where the GISA Final Four is staged.
"Should we get by Tattnall, I like our chances of getting to Milledgeville," Griffin said. "That's our motivation now. The past few years, Augusta Christian has not been able to get back to the final four, so we still can reach our biggest goal this season."
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