By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Sometimes gambles work. Sometimes they don’t. But there comes a time when they are necessary to try.
Such was the case for Greenforest Christian Academy in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class A private school final against St. Francis. After a miserable third quarter in which the Eagles were outscored 11-4 and were limited to just five shots due to the Knights’ strategic move to pull the ball out on offense and shorten the game, Greenforest head coach David Jones decided to gamble and go to a half court trap to speed up the game in the final period.
The move paid off, as the Eagles forced some key turnovers, quickened the pace of the game and outscored the Knights 23-9 in the fourth quarter, en route to a 55-41 win and the east metro school’s first state title.
“Sometimes you have to take some risks, some gambles if things aren’t going your way, and that’s what we needed to do,” Jones said of his decision to force the issue on defense. “We knew they would be tough the trap because they’re long and tall, and they handle the ball pretty well. But we were able to get some turnovers and we rebounded the ball really well on both ends, and then we hit some free throws there at the end. I’m really proud of the way our kids played.”
Greenforest sprinted out to a 19-10 lead after the first quarter, and then extended the margin to 23-12 early in the second, after a steal and lay up by Justin Ravenel. The bucket capped a 14-4 run by the Eagles.
But St. Francis wouldn’t fold and countered with a 12-5 run to close the half, powered mostly by freshman Kobi Simmons, who led all scorers with 20 points.. His back-to-back threes on the final two possessions of the half cut the Greenforest lead to 28-24 at halftime.
The Knights then opened the second half with an 8-2 run that gave them a 32-30 lead midway through the period. Malik Beasley’s steal and dunk capped the spurt, which he started with a three-pointer from the corner. His buckets sandwiched a three by fellow sophomore Kaiser Gates. Another trey by Gates closed the third quarter and gave the Knights a 35-32 lead heading into the fourth.
But Greenforest senior Tosin Mehinti led the comeback. The UAB signee scored seven of his team-leading 13 points in the fourth quarter. His offensive rebound and put back with three minutes left in the game put the Eagles up for good, 43-41. Mehinti finished with 15 rebounds, six on the offensive end.
Just as Greenforest went cold in the third quarter, St. Francis’ offense stalled in the fourth, as the Eagles closed the game on a 14-0 run.
The win gave Jones his second title in the Georgia High School Association. He and Georgia Tech star James Forrest led Southside of Atlanta – now Maynard Jackson High School – to the AAAA championship in 1990. Forrest’s cousin, Justin Ravenel, a sophomore who finished with seven points, is one of the eight non-seniors on the Eagle roster.
“It looks good for the future,” Jones said. “But we’ll see.”
Greenforest (55) – Tosin Mehinti 15, Rashad Swain 13, Faisal Abdul-Amlik 9, Justin Ravenel 7, Ugo Celestine 6, John Ogwuche 5.
St. Francis (41) – Kobi Simmons 20, Kaiser Gates 12, Malik Beasley 5, Jordan Jones 4.