Savannah schools have won 19 state titles in boys basketball, but none since 1998. Perhaps the glory days are coming back. Savannah schools went 5-0 Wednesday, their best-ever showing in the first round.
Two of those schools – Beach and Windsor Forest – upset region champions on the road. The other three – Savannah, Johnson and Jenkins – are ranked in the Top 10 with serious hopes of giving Chatham County public schools their first basketball state champion in 15 years.
The reason? One is that Savannah schools are no longer choosing to compete in the highest classification with smaller enrollment numbers.
For years, the Savannah schools played up in class by choice. The idea was to have them in one class, one region, and save on travel costs, even if it meant little chance at a state championship in any sport.
The GHSA’s move to six classifications this academic year prompted the school board to let its schools play where they belong enrollment-wise. Now, Groves, Jenkins and Windsor Forest are in AAAAA (the second-highest class). Beach, Johnson and Savannah are in AAA along with newly opened New Hampstead and Islands.
Savannah’s basketball schools always managed to do pretty well despite the handicap of playing bigger schools.
In 2012, Savannah was a surprising Class AAAAA runner-up to Milton despite AA enrollment. In 2006, Beach stunned defending champion and nationally ranked Wheeler in the semifinals, but couldn’t pull off two near-miracles in two days. The Bulldogs were outmatched by Jodie Meeks’ Norcross team 66-49 in the championship game.
Savannah coach Tim Jordan, whose team was the last from South Georgia to win a state title in the highest class in ’98, remains defiant, saying ‘’you always want to play the best.’’
‘’I still think we can win a state championship in any division,’’ he said. “Our goal is always to win state, and I think kids rise to your expectations. Don’t get me wrong. There’s good competition in AAA, but you don’t play a Milton or a Norcross with three or four major college prospects. They’re not going to have two or three of those guys [in AAA]. They might have one.’’
But it’s no coincidence that Savannah has five schools in the round of 16 this year. In 2012, only Savannah among Savannah schools advanced past the first round.
On Wednesday in AAAAA, Windsor Forest, which was only 10-17 entering the tournament, stunned ninth-ranked Northside-Warner Robins 69-60 and led by as much as 20 points in the third quarter, according to the Savannah Morning News. Windsor Forest is in the second round for the first time since 2004 and could make the quarterfinals for the first time since the 1995 final four team.
In AAA, Beach defeated Region 4 champion Callaway 80-71 in overtime as Rashad Cummings scored 32 points, eight in the extra period. It was Beach’s first playoff win in six years.
Savannah, ranked No. 2 in AAA, beat Chapel Hill 69-36 while third-ranked Johnson made the second round for only the second time in 20 years, drubbing Rockmart 71-36. No. 10 Jenkins of AAAAA beat Evans 71-61 and is one victory from making the quarterfinals for the first time since 1973.
Savannah boys state champions:
*Won in Georgia Interscholastic Association. Rest are GHSA.