By Brian Paglia
Late in the third quarter Thursday night, Woodland senior forward Darius Tookes caught a pass in transition, planted his feet behind the 3-point arc and deposited the shot softly through the net in one fluid motion. Woodland had a 19-point lead and control. The remaining 10 minutes of the game appeared to be merely a formality.
Then formality quickly turned into uncertainty. By the end of the third quarter Woodland led by 11. Four minutes into the fourth quarter it led by 8. When Woodland coach David Bice called a timeout 1:30 later, the Wolfpack's lead was down to just one point.
"(Woodward Academy) played a heck of a game," Bice said afterward.
Thankfully for Woodland, Alton Price was wide open in transition for a layup to put the Wolfpack up 55-50 with eight seconds left in the game. Two free throws later by Elliot Davis, and Woodland escaped with a 57-53 victory, the first of three teams from Henry County to punch their ticket to the state tournament Thursday night.
Tookes had a game-high 23 points for Woodland (17-9) and made five 3-pointers. Davis added 11 points and junior forward A'Darius Porter scored 10.
Woodland will play the winner of South Atlanta/Mary Persons in the quarterfinals Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
The Wolfpack will go into that contest with valuable experience gained from Thursday's game. Woodland found Woodward Academy's full-court pressure defense easy enough to deal with, but it also led to rushed shots in transition.
With the prospect of facing No. 1 South Atlanta in the next round, Bice said those missed opportunities won't be so easy to overcome next time.
"We've got to learn how to finish games," Bice said. "They were pressing and we tried to force some things. If we hit the shots, it's OK. But we didn't hit the shots."
Eagle's Landing boys 52, Rutland 46
With its best chance of making the state tournament in school history on the line, it wasn't a good sign when All-Region 4-AAA first-teamer Javan Wells went down with an ankle injury four minutes into the game.
But the Golden Eagles persevered, enduring Rutland's vigorous full-court pressure defense and timely 3-point shooting to alter the program's history.
"It was a war," Eagle's Landing coach Clay Crump said. "We battled and scrapped, but we pulled it out."
Indeed, without Wells, the team's go-to scorer, the Golden Eagles (17-9) got contributions from others like junior guard Aldarrien Bryant, who came off the bench for significant minutes and scored nine points.
Senior Warren Staples led Eagle's Landing with 13 points, while freshman center Desmond Ringer and junior forward Verdis Morgan each scored 11.
And now the boys basketball program is no longer the only Eagle's Landing athletic team without a banner hanging in the school gym. Now, the Golden Eagles get to keep playing basketball, facing the winner of Spalding/Maynard Jackson in the quarterfinals Saturday.
"It's been a goal since I took over as coach. It feels great," Crump said. "These kids deserve it. They're extremely excited. It's wonderful."
Eagle's Landing girls 55, Woodward Academy 18
Lady Golden Eagles girls basketball coach Lisa Horton came out of her team's locker room and gave a sigh of relief. After seven years at the helm, Eagle's Landing had finally made the state tournament.
The Lady Golden Eagles (19-6) used a stifling defense and second-half barrage of 3s to defeat Woodward Academy and qualify for the Class AAA tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
"It feels good," Horton said. "It feels really good."
Eagle's Landing will play the winner of Rutland/Woodland on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the region tournament.
Eagle's Landing held a commanding 23-10 lead at halftime, but the second half could have gone one of two ways.
Woodward Academy could have adjusted and tested the Lady Golden Eagles as they did in a close 55-50 win for Eagle's Landing on Jan. 26. Or Eagle's Landing could have continued its dominance as it did in its season opening 62-39 victory over Woodward Academy two months ago.
Senior point guard Kendra Adams made sure the game was never in doubt. She scored Eagle's Landing's first seven points in the third quarter and directed the offense efficiently to go along with seven rebounds, three steals and one block.
"When Kendra plays well there's no doubt we're going to win," Horton said. "She really is the team leader. She's the floor leader. Whatever her vibes are, it just spreads to everybody else."
Then the outside shooting emerged. Alexis Smith (11 points) came off the bench and hit a 3. Arkia Armstrong (12 points) hit back-to-back 3s, including a desperation heave at the buzzer, and suddenly Eagle's Landing led 41-16.
Mia Adams had a team-high 13 points, along with six rebounds and four steals.