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Local teams ready for Elite 8

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

After two rounds of the state playoffs, four Southern Crescent teams are still in the championship hunt.

Teams will be playing the weekend to earn a trip to the Final Four at various sites throughout the state starting this evening. Dutchtown and Forest Park girls and North Clayton boys will be at Fort Valley State for quarterfinal games while Henry County boys will make the trek to Georgia Southwestern in Americus.

"We are really excited about the opportunity we have," North Clayton senior guard Zach Bradley said. "We thought at the beginning of the season that we could make a playoff run. We stumbled in the region tournament with a loss to Stockbridge, but we seem to be playing back at our potential."

If North Clayton is to make it back to the semifinals for the first time in four years, the Eagles must contained one of the hottest teams in the state in No. Richmond Academy. The Musketeers boost a 29-1 record and have won 28 straight games. Richmond's last loss was 79-70 to Laney in the second game of the season on Nov. 28.

"We know they are a force, and a great team," Bradley said. "Their 29-1 record speaks for itself. We know we will have to play a great game."

North Clayton is making its first state playoff appearance since the 2006-07 season. This is the first time that Richmond Academy has made consecutive quarterfinals appearances since 1957-58.

From all indications, Richmond Academy and North Clayton have a lot of similarities. The Musketeers are led by Desmond Lofland, the reigning Region 3-AAAA player of the year. He plays both guard positions and is expected to sign a college scholarship in April.

The Eagles, who were ranked No. 8 in the final regular season coaches poll, are led by all-region players sophomore Marcus Hunt and senior Zach Bradley.

"I talked to the Dutchtown coach, and he said we are very similar in the way we play," Richmond Academy coach Steve Nobles said. "He said he expects it to be a real good game."

Lofland, who started the game against Dutchtown, played with his hand wrapped in tape and managed to score nine points. He practiced Thursday without an wrapping on the hand.

"Once I got into the game and got up to the tempo, I didn't really pay attention (to my thumb)," Lofland said. "I just went out there, made some assists and, tried to score or whatever I needed to do to help my team win."

Dutchtown's appearance in the quarterfinals is uncharted territory for the school. In fact, this season has been fun of history for the Bulldog program as the 26 wins is a school record and the regular season and region tournament championships are also first.

In its overtime win over North Clayton, Glenn Hills Jessica Morgan had 35 points. In addition to Morgan, senior Brandi Lamb proves most of the inside scoring.

This is the second straight game that Dutchtown will play against a team from Region 3-AAAA. On Wednesday, the Bulldogs defeated Butler, which was region runner-up. Glenn Hills is the No. 3 seed from the region.

Henry County is back in the quarterfinals for the second straight season. The unranked Warhawks will take on No. 6 Thomasville, which won the Region 1-AA championship.

It's the first trip past the second round for the Bulldogs since they went to the championship game in 2006.

"In the past I think it's just been a lack of focus," Thomasville senior Fred Holton told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. "This year we're a little bit more focused. We know what we need to do."