Both the Douglass Astros and Therrell Panthers were victorious in their Final Four matchups Saturday at Georgia College and State University.
This sets up the opportunity for both schools to bring back two state titles to the Atlanta Public School (APS) district but also their first respective state titles in their school history.
For the Astros, they are seeking their first state title after defeating AA powerhouse Laney Wildcats 66-60 Saturday evening. Astros head coach Alana Allen knows what is at stake and is excited to coach in her first state title game Thursday.
“Defense is the key and has been the key for us all season,” said Allen. “We are not going to switch anything up. We’re going to run, we’re going to play great defense and I’m going to let my guards attack.”
Allen is also aware of the Early County Bobcats and the weapons they have.
“They [Early County] obviously have a good team that is why they are in the finals. They obviously have a good 6’2 sophomore [Makayla Timpson], so we are going to try and slow her down.”
If the Astros look to make history Thursday, everything begins and ends with senior guard and Jacksonville State commit Nekiyah Thompson.
“Nekiyah Thompson is our go to player. This will be her last game in a Douglass uniform and we’re excited for her. She means everything to this team and she is key. I think she is going to have a great game.”
Thompson is the first Division-I signee under Allen but Allen gives all her success and credit to her assistant coaches Khaalidah Miller and Morgan Jennings
“They have been big time for our program,” said Allen. “They both have played SEC basketball, are former Douglass players and decided to come back to help us win. They are a big reason why we are in the championship game now and I give them a lot of credit because it’s not just me.”
After falling to Region 6 foe South Atlanta Hornets in the region title game, the Panthers find themselves in position to bring their first state title to Panther Trail.
Ever since that loss, the Panthers have won all of their playoff games by double digits including their 57-47 win over Early County in the semifinals.
Panthers head coach Eddie Johnson has coached many state championship teams but is highly confident in his team.
“I have been telling the boys all year,”I don’t think there is a team in the state of Georgia that can really mess with us when we are on our game.” When we play our style of basketball on a constant basis from start to finish, there is no team in Georgia that can stop us.”
This is Johnson’s first state title appearance as head coach of the Panthers but it will not be his first time coaching in a state championship. For Johnson, that makes it special.
“This will be the first one that I honestly will consider that I built,” said Johnson. “This is my baby and I’m extremely proud of the position we are in right now.”
Johnson previously coach at Miller Grove under now Pace Academy head coach Sharman White.
As the Panthers head into the state title game against the Vidalia Indians, Johnson knows the pace he wants to play at.
“I told them we are in better shape,” said Johnson. “I run my players all year for a reason and I find reasons to run them. Because I put that fear [of running] in them, the shape we are in to play four quarters strong [is] an attribute that will help us in the long run. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep up a fast paced game for all 32 minutes and we’ll see if they can hang with us.”
Every team has a player who is the key to their success and for the Panthers, it is point guard Roman Son.
“If you notice out of all of my basketball players, he [Son] is the one that gets the least rest. Roman is the one I know I can play for 32 minutes and he will still have enough stamina for this game. He plays strong defense and be able to knock down important shots when they count.”
If the Panthers want to bring back their first state title, Johnson knows what his team needs to do.
“Playing as a team. If we play as a team, we should be pretty strong.”
Both teams will play at the Macon Centreplex on Thursday, March 7, 2018.
The Astros will face the Early County Bobcats, tip off begins at 2 p.m.
The Panthers will face the defending state AA runner up Vidalia Indians. Their game will follow the Astros game at 4 p.m.