AMERICUS—There has been a changing of the guard in the ranks of GISA basketball.
After losing to Holy Spirit in the state championship game the past two years, it was the Heritage Hawks turn to sit on top of the basketball mountain Saturday night, beating the Cougars 67-64 to snag the GISA state title in a game played at Georgia Southwestern University.
The victory comes in head coach Joab Jerome’s first season running the Heritage basketball team.
Jerome was on the staff last year under former head coach Mark Lieberman, who resigned at the end of last season and moved to Kentucky.
“I owe coach Liberman so much,” Joab said. I learned so much from him. I am going to text him later tonight just to say thanks.”
After losing 11-straight times to Holy Spirit, the Hawks have now beaten the Cougars twice in a row.
The winning streak started earlier this month with the Hawks’ dramatic win over Holy Spirit in the Region 1-AAA title game when Kasen Jennings hit a overtime shot at the buzzer.
“The confidence was there in that region championship, and that confidence was here tonight,” Joab said.
Heritage sealed away the state title with under a minute to go in the game when it threw the ball the length of the floor.
Senior Lance Terry chased down the ball before it went out of bonds and converted the play into a basket to give the Hawks a 65-62 lead.
“That was supposed to go Kasen because his guy was right in front of him,”Terry said. “I was able to track down the ball and score.”
Later in the quarter, Terry hit two free throws, including the first that rolled in an out before falling through the net for a 67-62 lead.
Holy Spirit’s Anthony Edward went the length of the court for an uncontested layup as the buzzer sounded, but by that time, the Hawks’ celebration had begun.
Three players finished in double figures for the Hawks, including Terry who had 28.
Terry recently signed with Gardner-Webb.
Jennings ended night with 15 and EB Dowuona 13.
“We had to stay together as a team,” Terry said. “Coach was telling us to play together.”
Edwards, who recently committed to the University of Georgia had 27 in a matchup between two future Division I players.
After the Cougars opened the game with a 3-pointer, the Hawks scored the next five points and never trailed again.
Jennings had two 3-pointers in the first quarter and Terry one to help push the lead to 18-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The Cougars limited the Hawks to just one field goal in the second quarter, a dunk from Dowuona midway through the period.
Holy Spirit used the offensive dry spell to cut the lead to 27-25 at the half.
After scoring just two points in the first quarter, Edwards caught fire in the second half, finishing with two straight 3-point plays.
Dowuona helped Heritage open the third quarter with a monster dunk.
After getting fouled on the play, he sank the free throw to give the Hawks a 30-25 lead.
The Hawks Connor Thompson drilled a 3-pointer later in the quarter and Heritage extended the lead to 33-27.
Edwards kept the Cougars in the game in the third quarter, connecting on two 3-pointers.
His second trey of the period, cut the Hawks lead 39-37.
Heritage extended the lead to 42-39 heading into the final period.
Holy Spirit made one last run going on a 7-4 run to tie the game at 46-all.
Terry then took over, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers.
His second trey gave the Hawks 52-48 lead.
Holy Spirit cut into the late late in the fourth quarter when the Cougars cut the lead to one on two separates down the floor.
The final time came when Edwards buried two free throws to trim the Heritage lead to 63-62.
After the future Georgia Bulldog cut the lead to one, the Hawks set up for the play that went the length of the floor and Terry’s basket.