Tifton Gazette

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December 28, 2012

Final day of McDonald’s Invitational features state basketball powers

TIFTON — The last day of the McDonald’s Invitational Classic in Tifton features some of the state’s most heralded teams, including a battle between two No. 1 schools, the Tift County Blue Devils and the Savannah Blue Jackets.

The day starts at 10 a.m. when the Cook Hornets play their second opponent from Nashville in a week. Tommy Blackshear’s boys thoroughly defeated the Berrien Rebels in Adel last week, but it is not Berrien on the schedule this time. The Hornets play the Pearl Cohn Firebirds. These Nashville natives are from the town in Tennessee.

Game two, slated for 11:30 a.m., sees the Mill Creek Hawks tangle with the West Orange (Fla.) Warriors. Mill Creek is one of the state’s youngest schools, having opened in 2004. Since then, they have been to the state tournament three times, including the last two years. In 2011, they advanced all the way to the quarterfinals.

Former Tift County Blue Devils star, Keary Brownlee, returns to the sidelines at  1 p.m., when his Toombs County Bulldogs face the Northside Eagles from Warner Robins. Brownlee’s squad went to state last year and on Thursday lost to Cook, 57-42, in the classic’s opening tip.

Northside, who waited over 30 years for their initial state basketball appearance, has made six appearances in 12 years and finished with a 20-8 record last year.

South Cobb and Randolph-Clay are next to go at 2:30 p.m. South Cobb’s Eagles made it to the second round last year, while the Red Devils from Cuthbert have been a constant since the small west Georgia counties combined high schools over 40 years ago. They have won four state championships and have been runners-up four more times.

The Archer Tigers from Lawrenceville travel all the way to Tifton to meet another metro opponent, the Marist War Eagles. It will be a battle of deep tradition versus upstarts. Archer opened just three years ago, while Marist has three state championships and opened its doors way back in 1901.

Doing battle at 5:30 p.m. will be the Valdosta Wildcats, who face the Atomsmashers from Johnson High in Savannah. Johnson, which originated as Powell Laboratory School, captured championships in 1968 and 1992. Valdosta has a lone title to their credit, a 1948 crown under legendary football coach Wright Bazemore.

Tift County’s teams finally have their opportunity to take the floor in the last two games of the evening.

The Lady Devils face the Lady Blue Jackets from Savannah at 7 p.m. Tift has been on a roll lately and are 7-3 on the season, including a 55-25 defeat of Cook Thursday. Savannah has had a handful of state appearances over the years, but none since 2007.

The final game of the McDonald’s Invitational sees Savannah and Tift go at it again, this time in a boys contest. This will be a game between two of the state’s top teams, Savannah ranked No. 1 in Class AAA, while the Devils are No. 1 in AAAAAA.

Savannah dropped down from AAAAA this season, a year that saw them finish 30-3 and runners-up to Milton in the championship game. The Jackets have won 13 titles over the years, a number only topped by the former Lanier Poets of Macon (17).

The Devils have one state title, one captured in 1996 under Blackshear. Tifton High also finished as runners-up in 1954 and 1961.

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