ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Coming into last Saturday’s Class A private school championship in Macon March 8, the St. Francis Knights had compiled a 23-7 record against one of the most demanding schedules in the state.
Four of the Georgia teams that defeated them went on to win the state championship in Class AAA (Morgan County) and AA (Greater Atlanta Christian) and lost in the championship game (Miller Grove) and semifinals (Stephenson) in AAAAA.
The Knights’ only other losses to Georgia teams both were administered by Whitefield Academy, the team the Knights faced for the state title.
Thanks to the strength of their schedule, the Knights were seeded third among the 16 schools in the Class A private division, while Whitefield was seeded fourth despite the two wins over St. Francis in the regular season.
The WolfPack led for most of the championship game against the Knights. But when the clock ran out, the rankings outweighed the previous results.
St. Francis took the lead with three minutes to play and held for a 65-60 victory, giving the school a second straight state championship in basketball.
The St. Francis girls won a state title in 2013, but lost in the semifinals last week to Southwest Atlanta Christian, a team the Lady Knights defeated in the Region 6-A championship game.
The victory over Whitefield Academy was the second close call for the Knights in the state tournament. After a rout of Hebron Christian in the first round, the Knights erased a seven-point deficit in the final two and a half minutes to edge Holy Innocents 74-72 in the quarterfinals.
St. Francis defeated Athens Christian 79-64 in the semifinals, leading 26-10 after one period, to set up a third meeting with Whitefield, which won the first two by 12 and eight points.
Malik Beasley and Kobi Jordan-Simmons, the Knights’ top two scorers, came up big in the championship game, scoring 22 and 20 points respectively. A Beasley free throw put the Knights ahead for the first time since the first quarter, and Jordan-Simmons followed with a dunk to give St. Francis a three-point lead, which the Knights protected at the foul line.
Beasley, a 6-foot-4 junior, led the team in scoring with a 19-point average, while Jordan-Simmons, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, averaged more than 17 points per contest.
Kaiser Gates, a 6-foot-8 junior, contributed more than 14 points a game and led the Knights in rebounding, averaging 10 for the season. Josh Coleman, a 6-foot-10 junior center, and Beasley were second in rebounding with 8.3 per contest, with point guard McKinley Brown, the team’s lone senior starter, leading in assists with more than five per game.
The Knights got key contributions from all their starters throughout the postseason, beginning with a 53-45 win over North Cobb Christian in the Region 6-A championship game.
Beasley had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the game, with Simmons adding 13 points. Gates and Coleman combined for 24 rebounds and Brown chipped in with eight points, six rebounds and five assists.
Jordan-Simmons, Gates and Beasley teamed up for 58 points, and Brown added 10 points and 10 assists in a 90-47 win over Hebron Christian in the first round of state.
Beasley scored 24 points. Jordan-Simmons had 20 points and Gates had 15 in the come-from-behind win against Holy Innocents, with Beasley and Gates grabbing 12 rebounds each.
The Knights jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the semifinals against Athens Christian, with Jordan-Simmons scoring 22 points, taking down 11 rebounds and handing out seven assists. Beasley had 19 points and nine rebounds. Gates scored 17 points, Coleman had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Brown was credited with seven assists in the victory.
St. Francis finished the season 24-7, including three wins over AAAAAA state qualifiers Pebblebrook, which reached the semifinals, Shiloh and Chattahoochee.
The Knights played in the state title for the second straight season, losing to Greenforest Christian in the 2013 title game. St. Francis has made the state playoffs five times in six seasons under head coach Cabral Huff, but was 1-3 in the tournament until reaching the finals last year.
Lady Knights edged out of semifinals
The St. Francis girls defeated Southwest Atlanta Christian 69-52 in the Region 6-A finals, leading 23-5 after the first period.
But after winning their first two games at state by more than 40 points, the Lady Knights trailed the Warriors 37-24 at halftime in the state semifinals at Kennesaw State. St. Francis outscored Southwest Atlanta Christian 18-6 in the third quarter and took the lead for the first time with 3:30 to play, but lost 66-61.
Southwest Atlanta Christian, seeded fifth, won the state title, defeating unbeaten Holy Innocents, the No. 2 seed, in the championship game.
Senior Candice Williams scored 17 points and freshman Taja Cummings had 15 in the state semifinal loss to the Warriors, who also defeated St. Francis in the regular season. The Lady Knights finished 25-3, with their only other loss coming in the finals of a holiday tournament in Alabama.
Williams scored 19 points in the region title game against the Warriors, with junior Abby Grant and 6-foot-3 freshman Kasiyanha Kushkituah adding 16 points each. Grant connected on four three-pointers, with Kushkituah taking down 11 rebounds.
For the season, Williams, Grant and Kushkituah all averaged in double figures, with Nichel Tampa, one of three freshmen regulars for the Knights, averaging around nine points per contest. Williams, Jade Davis and Amanda Tramble were the team’s only seniors.
The Lady Knights finished with a 25-3 record after going 23-8 in last year’s championship season. In five seasons under coach Aisha Kennedy, St. Francis has gone 115-33, advancing to at least the state quarterfinals each year.