Boys Basketball Captures First State Championship
The Woodward Academy Boys Basketball team completed a historic run on Friday at the Macon Centreplex. The War Eagles, who had lost just two games all season by a combined 5 points, completed the regular season with a 22-2 record including a 1st place finish at The Kevin Brown Memorial Tournament of Champions in Washington, IL. In the Region 4-AAAA Tournament, Woodward stormed through the competition, defeating Hampton High School, North Clayton and host McDonough High School to capture the Region 4-AAAA Championship for the third consecutive season.
After the region tournament, the War Eagles entered the AAAA State Tournament as the #1 seed from Region 4-AAAA hosting #4 seed Spalding High School. Woodward started slow but cruised to a 61-39 win to advance to the next round. Round two matched the War Eagles against #3 seed Madison County. Once again, Woodward had little trouble, advancing with a 70-39 victory. The Elite Eight match-up featured arguably the two best teams in AAAA as Woodward Academy hosted Sandy Creek. In front of a sold-out Paget Gym and in a game with a championship feel to it, the game was everything a basketball fan could hope for. With the score tied 56-56, Woodward had the ball with under 30 seconds to play. Working the offensive, senior Michael Whitmore found junior Logan Stephens on a back-door cut for an easy lay-up. Sandy Creek’s desperation half-court shot hit off the back of the rim and the War Eagles advanced to the Final Four winning 58-56.
The Final Four round matched Woodward Academy up with familiar foe Denmark. Both teams faced each other last year in the Elite Eight with the War Eagles getting the better of the Danes. Played at Fort Valley State University, the game was close through the first half. Denmark used solid defense and efficient 3-point shooting to hold a 25-23 lead at halftime. Woodward Academy came out determined in the second half with an increased defensive intensity and dominated the rest of the game. Punctuated by several high-flying dunks, a 64-43 win sent the War Eagles to the AAAA State Championship game.
The championship game matched the War Eagles up with another familiar foe in Cross Creek High School. Both teams faced each other in the round of 16 last season with the War Eagles getting three free throws late to win a close battle. The game also represented a chance for Woodward Academy to capture the first boys basketball state title in school history. The first half was a defensive struggle as Woodward’s aggressive man-to-man defense and Cross Creeks disciplined zone limited the scoring chances. Woodward held a small lead throughout the first half and went into the halftime break leading 27-21. Similar to their final four game, the War Eagles came out in the 2nd half determined to take control. A combination of aggressive full-court defensive and unselfish offensive play slowing built Woodward a 49-37 lead starting the 4th quarter. The final quarter saw more of the same as the War Eagles built an unsurmountable lead. The final minutes of the game were merely academic as the War Eagles cruised to their first state championships 75-56. While McDonald’s All-American Walker Kessler has been the center of attention most the season, the championship game was a total team effort with all five starters scoring in double-digits.
The War Eagles end this historic season with a 30-2 overall record, third consecutive region title and the school’s first ever Boys Basketball State Championship.
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