The Bethesda Blazers were desperate to avenge previous state title losses to the First Presbyterian Christian Academy Highlanders when they battled in the state final Saturday afternoon at Georgia College and State University. The Blazers led by 7 then traded leads with the Hinesville boys roughly 10 times before the Highlanders secured the crown, 55-46.
The Highlanders’ fan base roared, "Three-peat," and stormed the floor when the buzzer sounded and Highlander coach David Jones said it looked like all of Hinesville and the Holmestown community were there.
"Anybody who wanted to rob Holmestown should have done so Saturday," he joked. "Everybody was in Milledgeville."
Jones is no stranger to winning state titles. He won the state title roughly 20 years ago when he was the coach at Southside High School in Atlanta. But he said it felt great earning a state ring during was his first year as the Highlanders’ athletic director and boys basketball coach.
He said he knew it was going to be a battle and said the game could have gone either way. In fact, Bethesda and FPCA have been trading victories the past few seasons.
In 2006-07, the Blazers defeated the Highlanders twice. In 2007-08, the teams went 1-1 in the regular season and Bethesda won the region. But the Highlanders then beat Bethesda in the state championship. Last season, the Highlanders beat everyone, including Bethesda, taking the region and state titles in their first perfect season. This year, the teams once again were 1-1 in the regular season and FPCA won the region.
On Saturday, Jones called the game a collective effort from his players.
He said he felt relieved.
"When you come into a program that has a history of winning, the only way you can go is down if you are not careful," he said. "Our players were elated."The coach said most of the players knew what to expect, having been in the championship series before. But he said first-year Highlanders’ DJ Felder and Jordan Johnson were in awe that they were on a state title winning team.
"It was truly a team effort," he said. "We had four kids in double figures. Hakeem did his usual job of getting in there and battling for the loose ball. You just have to admire the work he does. Jordan had one of his most outstanding games as far as handling the ball and getting it to the right people in critical situations. AJ Ansley might have played his best man-to-man defense all year."
The coach said Mike Brown hit critical trey shots, denying Bethesda the chance to pull ahead.
The season was an impressive one for the Highlanders who continued a winning streak with 43 victories. They have only two losses this season, one being to Lancaster High at the Orangeburg Christmas Tournament, the other to Bethesda in Savannah on Feb. 2.
Jones said his assistant coach, David Linderman, has kept the program running seamlessly and made his first year at FPCA effortless. He said he is thankful to the players, who cooperated with his defensive changes and thankful to the school administrators, who make him feel right at home.
He said he was happy Kashien Latham, his former coaching assistant at Bradwell Institute who works at FPCA, was able to give him and his players additional support on the court Saturday.
Jones was selected as the GISA Class A coach of the year. He and assistant coach David Lindermand were also chosen as All-Star coaches.