Region 4AAAAAA champion Pebblebrook defeated Luella 61-50 on Thursday to set up a semifinal showdown with Wheeler tonight at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion at 8:15 p.m.
Wheeler, champion of Region 5AAAAAA, won 61-58 at North Gwinnett to move on.
In the state semifinals for the second straight season, Wheeler (27-5) has won five state championships — the most recent in 2009. Meanwhile, Pebblebrook (24-5) is making its first state semifinal appearance.
Both teams are capable of playing a half-court style offense with 3-point shooters, but they prefer to run up and down the court in transition. Defensively, Wheeler can pressure teams into mistakes and they play mostly man-to-man. Pebblebrook pressures the ball as well to force turnovers and primarily stays in a 2-3 zone scheme to force outside shots.
Wheeler is also looking to avoid a recurrence of last season, in which the Wildcats lost to a Region 4AAAAAA team in the semifinals. In 2013, it was Hillgrove that moved on to the championship game.
Whitefield has returned to the semifinals after winning the Class A crown in 2012. The Wolfpack (22-6), who have won three state titles, beat North Cobb Christian 73-69 in double overtime Thursday to advance and will face Calvary Day on Monday at 8:15 p.m. in the KSU Convocation Center.
Calvary Day may have helped Whitefield out with its overtime win over Greenforest Christian, eliminating last year’s Class A private school champion.
“It’s good to be in this position,” said Whitefield coach Tyrone Johnson, who took a one-year leave of absence from coaching last season. “When I got back, there were a lot of changes. I had to deal with the power ratings system and get acclimated to that. I’m still trying to figure out how to use that to our advantage.
“I also had only coached two of the guys on the team. I thought I’d be able to pick up where I left off, and it was a challenge, but our core principles and terminology was still the same, so that made things easier. It’s certainly exciting to be back in the semifinals and the game will be another welcome challenge.”
Johnson sees a mirror image of his team in Calvary Day (20-6), in that the Cavaliers run a guard-oriented system.
“They got a huge upset over Greenforest and took it to them,” Johnson said. “We realize we have our hands full with them, and since we’re both guard-oriented teams, the winner will likely be the team who imposes their will better. We have to make sure we dictate the pace and tempo and hope we can be successful at that.”
McEachern (26-2) is back in the semifinals for the first time since winning it all in 2012.
The Region 4AAAAAA champion Lady Indians beat Douglas County 82-51 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal and moved on to face Region 6AAAAAA runner-up South Forsyth tonight at 6:30 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion.
South Forsyth (27-5) is coming off an upset of defending state champion Norcross. The Lady War Eagles are the first Forsyth County girls team to make it this far in the state playoffs in 43 years.
“I think our girls are mentally ready, but physically, they’re worn out,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said. “The GHSA hasn’t given us a lot of rest between games, but I keep reminding the girls that everybody’s worn out and have played a lot of games up to this point.”
Tonight’s game will be different for the teams involved, with McEachern and South Forsyth matching up in an 8,600-seat arena, as opposed to their much smaller gymnasiums.
“That will be different for them,” Arthur said, “but once we get past the first quarter, I think we’ll be OK. South Forsyth is a good team, and they’ll do all the little things well like box out, run their offense and stay patient. They’re a half-court team, but I told the girls that as long as we play our style, we’ll do well.”