JMA girls Final Four bound, boys done

Feb. 26—It's been over a decade since Georgia College's Centennial Center played host to the Final Four for the Georgia Independent Schools Association.

Now called the Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA), the league's Class AAA and AAAA state semifinals are making their return to Milledgeville Wednesday, so it's entirely fitting that a Milledgeville school is represented among the teams trying to make the championship round.

Appearing in their fourth Final Four in the last five years, the No. 3 John Milledge Academy girls (19-4) will be toting the flag thanks to a 59-47 victory over No. 6 Westminster Friday.

"Our gameplan essentially was to not allow them to get in a rhythm," JMA head coach Jeremy Mayweather said. "Once they get going, they're hard to stop. We saw that late in the game when they hit a couple of shots while we sat back on our heels, but for the most part we were up in their faces. The girls did a good job."

The playoff victory earned the Lady Trojans a third meeting against Albany's Deerfield-Windsor School this season. They split their January matchups with the home team winning each one. JMA won 37-34 on Jan. 13 and lost 66-40 two weeks later. In both cases the losing team had played a tough region contest the night prior before having to take a long road trip.

The No. 2 Deerfield-Windsor Lady Knights (23-5) will be the ones having to travel for the 3 p.m. Wednesday Final Four bout at GCSU. This time though they'll be doing so with the benefit of multiple days' rest while also coming off an easy 58-24 win over Frederica in the quarterfinals Friday.

Count the scores from the two previous meetings and a higher seed as factors pointing in Deerfield's favor, but coach Mayweather says his team has grown accustomed to erasing doubt.

"There's always those naysayers that count you out, so we've kind of been the underdog for the most part when it comes to region or state competition," the third-year head coach said. "The girls are extremely focused and ready to play. Hopefully it'll show when the lights are on."

Mayweather's Lady Trojans will try to do something none of the program's three previous Final Four teams could do, which is make the state finals. They came up short in 2020, '21, and '22 before last year's second-round exit. If ever there were a year for the JMA girls to make the finals, this would be it. Four seniors — Maggie Prestwood, Allie Osborne, Jordan Prestridge, and Ella Hudgins — are in the starting lineup. The first three were named All-Region this season along with junior post player Calah Foston. Those accolades were earned in a region made up of larger schools.

"This is a great group that has the ability to do it," Mayweather said of making the championship. "The seniors have done a really good job of making sure everybody's focusing and blocking out the negativity. We're looking forward to Wednesday."

Unlike previous years when the private school league Final Four was played at GCSU, the championship round will not be played in Milledgeville. The Class AAA finals are slated for Friday at Columbus State University, so the JMA and Deerfield girls will be playing for a seat there. No. 1 Lakeview Academy and No. 5 Terrell Academy are set to meet on the other side of the semifinal bracket.

JMA boys beaten in Elite Eight

John Milledge boys basketball senior Jalan Butts reached the 1,000-point threshold just in the nick of time. The No. 6 Trojans (16-9) saw their season come to an end one game after he hit it as the JMA boys fell against No. 3 Lakeview Academy Saturday. The Lions (24-5) knocked off JMA via a 52-34 final score, ending the Trojans' three-year streak of advancing to the Final Four.