MACON, Ga. — For the first time in the near 30-year history of the school, Chattahoochee boys basketball staked its claim as state champions. The Cougars defeated the Lanier Longhorns, 66-63, on Saturday in the Class 6A state championship game at the Macon Centreplex.
“It’s very surreal,” Chattahoochee head coach Chris Short said. “As coaches we were talking on the bus, and it hasn’t even really sunk in yet. I’m certainly happy and pleased with the outcome and our kids’ effort, but the state championship hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Playing in the first state championship appearance in program history, Chattahoochee showed no signs of stage fright in the opening minutes. The Cougars built a 15-12 lead through one quarter after making four of six three-point attempts.
“We talked about playing one game at a time and one practice at a time to break it down even smaller than that,” Short said. “It’s natural for kids to feel the moment. We as a staff talked about making sure that we were composed and calm to a point. We wanted to make sure we were ready to go so the kids could feed off our energy.”
The shots continued to fall at a high percentage for the Cougars in the second quarter as they expanded on their lead. A three-pointer from senior Franklin Bailey gave Chattahoochee its largest lead of the night at that point, 30-21.
Lanier (26-6) went on a run to close to out the half, though, and the Cougars lead was cut to 34-31.
The momentum stayed with Lanier after the half, as the third quarter belonged entirely to the Longhorns. The No. 1 seed out of Reg. 8-AAAAAA scored 16 points in the period and allowed only six points from the Cougars.
After leading much of the game up to that point, Chattahoochee trailed 47-40 entering the fourth quarter.
The Cougars needed a response to keep their title hopes alive, and they wasted no time answering the call. Within a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, the Cougars tied the game at 47.
The teams traded baskets, and a free throw by Bailey put Chattahoochee back on top, 54-53, with three minutes left on the clock. After a stop on the other end of the court, a floater by senior Cam Sheffield put the Cougars up by three points with less than two minutes left.
“The seniors took over,” Short said. “It wasn’t the first time we’d been down. Going back to our region championship game against Cambridge, we were down. The seniors stepped up and really took control of the huddle and calmed everyone down. There were many occasions like that this year.”
Lanier’s star point guard Sion James (27 points) kept forcing his way to the free-throw line, and he tied the game from the charity stripe with 28 seconds left.
Chattahoochee had possession with a chance to capture the state title, but Bailey’s three-point attempt fell flat at the buzzer and sent the title match into overtime.
Playing in his final high school game, Sheffield put the team on his back one last time in overtime. The Rice University-bound senior scored six points early in the overtime period to give the Cougars a 62-56 advantage.
From there, Chattahoochee just had to run down the clock, make free throws and hold on to the lead. That task was made easier with the help of junior guard A.J. White, who went 11-for-12 from the free throw line.
“It’s a lot easier to play in overtime with a lead,” Short said. “I thought that was key for us.”
Sheffield finished with a game-high 31 points and eight rebounds in his Chattahoochee swan song. Fellow senior David McDaniel grabbed 14 rebounds and scored six points. White, who will return next year as a senior, scored 22 points and went three of seven from long range.
Chattahoochee finished the 2019-20 season with a 25-7 record in its third season led by Short. The Cougars went 13-3 in region play before winning the Reg. 7-AAAAAA tournament in February. Their final loss of the season came at the hands of Centennial on Jan. 10. From that point on, the Cougars reeled off a 13-game win streak capped off with a victory in the state title game.
“I don’t know if the magnitude of what we’ve accomplished has set in yet,” Short said.