Kell climbed to No. 1 in the Class AAAAA girls basketball rankings Sunday, thanks in large part to a wild weekend in 6-AAAAA during which the state’s three top-ranked teams lost in the region tournament.
On Tuesday in the first round of the state tournament, that same region brought the Longhorns’ season to an end.
Seventh-ranked Stephenson (24-5) used its size advantage to build a 20-point lead in the third quarter and held on for a 60-51 victory at Kell to advance to a second-round matchup at Lithia Springs, the No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAAAA. Stephenson was ranked No. 2 in the state before losing to Miller Grove and Tucker in the Region 6 tournament and settling for the No. 4 seed.
“I was concerned because in the past we’ve always come out either first or second in the region,” Stephenson coach Dennis Watkins Jr. said. “It was different. I was even nervous. I told them to just stick to the script, do what we’ve been doing all season, as far as communicating on defense and executing on offense, and it turned out well.”
Six-foot-one forwards Charbonay Johnson and Kaliyah Mitchell dominated inside for Stephenson. Johnson, a sophomore, led the Jaguars in scoring with 20 points, including nine in the second quarter when Stephenson doubled its lead from six to 12 points. Mitchell, a senior who signed with Penn State, had 10 points, 12 rebounds and several nice assists to Johnson.
“They played great,” Watkins said. “I had scouted [Kell] a couple of times, and I saw that we could match up with them on the inside. My girls ran their offense tonight. They ran the offense, and my hat’s off to Johnson and Mitchell. They did a great job.”
Stephenson led by 20 points when Johnson converted a three-point play to make it 37-17 with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter. But Kell (22-3) responded with a 7-0 run and managed to cut the deficit to 10 points heading into the fourth quarter.
A basket by Erin McKinney got the Longhorns within five points with a little more than four minutes remaining, but consecutive layups by Kyana Johnson and Charbonay Johnson pushed the lead back to 51-42. Kell never got closer than eight points the rest of the way. Naomi Stuger scored 11 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter for Kell, the champion of Region 7.
“We knew coming in that Kell had a great team, and so I told them that they’ve got to play,” Watkins said. “The girls stepped up to the challenge.”
Stephenson (60): Kerry Watson 11, Charbonay Johnson 20, Marnasha Eugene 4, Kyana Johnson 7, Kaliyah Mitchell 10, Terrianna Cave 2, Miracle Gray 4, Schelbi McKenzie 2, Nadaysia Brooks, Kayla Holmes, Sydney Saxton, Chloe Culpepper, Nailah Manning.
Kell (51): Santavia Grant 3, Onyx Henderson 10, Naomi Stuger 24, China Henderson 4, Erin McKinney 9, Kayla Oden 1, Nikki Eggers, Brittany Stocus, Julianna Santrock.