The second time was the charm for the Knights (24-7) as they clinched the Class A private school title with a 65-60 victory over Region 6A rival Whitefield Academy in the finals in Macon last Saturday.
“It’s been a great season,” St. Francis coach Cabral Huff said. “All the hard work that we put in from the time that we left that arena [after the loss to Greenforest in the state finals] last year paid off. That moment – we didn’t want to have that moment again. We worked hard so many days to get back there and win it.
“It was a very special feeling for a group of guys who a lot of people didn’t believe would get it done, even though we were there last year. We continued to battle, even when we were down, to just get it done. We did not want to leave that floor and not get a state championship.”
It was Whitefield in control in the first half as the Wolfpack led 16-15 at the end of the first quarter and 35-26 at halftime.
However, St. Francis stepped it up a notch on defense in the second half, cutting Whitefield’s lead to 49-45 at the end of the third quarter and then outscoring the Wolfpack 20-11 in the final period to clinch the win and the state crown.
“We were having trouble on defense with [Whitefield’s] penetration [in the first half],” Huff said. “We made adjustments at halftime to stop that penetration. We had to get back on defense – that was the biggest thing we made an adjustment on going into the second half. We wanted to make sure we came out in the second half to say we were going to still be in that game and we did just that.”
St. Francis also controlled the boards as well, outrebounding Whitefield 44-23 for the game.
“That was huge,” Huff said. “That’s what [Whitefield] likes to do, because when they get those second-chance opportunities and they get to control the ball, they usually win. So for us to be able to control the ball like that was huge.”
Malik Beasley scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Kobi Simmons added 20 points and Josh Coleman grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the way for the Knights.
To reach the finals, St. Francis defeated Hebron Christian 90-47 in the first round Feb. 25, Holy Innocents’ 74-72 in the quarterfinals Feb. 27 and Athens Christian 79-64 in the quarterfinals last Monday.
In addition to the state title, the Knights also got their first win in three tries over Region 6A Whitefield, who they lost to 65-51 Dec. 10 and 71-63 Jan. 21.
With 12 of its 14 players returning next year, St. Francis appears to be in a good position to defend its Class A private school boys’ title successfully.
However, Huff said he acknowledges that the task won’t be easy.
“We have some young guys who were freshmen and sophomores looking to step up next year and play a little bit more,” Huff said. “But, we also know that to be state champion is to have the bulls eye on your back ... they’re going to come with everything they have to beat us because we won the state championship. We’re going to have to work that much harder.”