ATLANTA — Tears filled the eyes of Swainsboro’s players as they left the court for the last time this season.
The Tigers’ magical run ended Saturday at the hands of a top-ranked program as South Atlanta beat Swainsboro 68-33 in the Class AA state championship at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
A rollercoaster season of heartbreak, adversity and postseason accomplishments carried Swainsboro to its biggest stage.
Head coach Bobby Andrews passed away after the 2016 season. One of his best friends, assistant coach Brice Hobbs, took over with a supporting cast of assistants, and the team soon rallied around the memory of Andrews.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Hobbs said. “They played tough all year long. We had a dream. The dream was to play for coach Bobby Andrews. We were trying to play through him. I’m proud of the guys.”
Swainsboro (21-11) started 0-3 and trudged along early in the season, but the Tigers found a turning point as the calendar switched to 2017, and they went on a 15-4 stretch. Three of those victories were by six points or fewer in the playoffs as they played for their first state title since 1996.
The Cinderella run met its end with top-ranked South Atlanta (29-1), which won its 27th game in a row and recorded four of five playoff wins by a double-digit margin.
The Hornets last won a state title in 2009 with several close calls since.
“We’ve been relevant, ranked in the top 10 and probably No. 1 in our classification a lot, but we only had one state championship,” South Atlanta coach Michael Reddick said. “That’s what we talked about all year. This year, we had to finish. The guys really bought into everything. They sacrificed and played for each other.”
Swainsboro’s Jaylan McKinney scored 15 points as the lone Tiger in double figures. South Atlanta held Swainsboro to 12 field goals and no 3-pointers while winning the rebound battle by 20.
South Atlanta’s Devonta Pullins recorded 20 points, while Tyler Thornton had 11 points and 14 rebounds, and Jalen Stegall posted 15 points and seven boards.
The Hornets scored the game’s first seven points and claimed an 11-7 lead after the first quarter. The advantage quickly grew to double digits at 5:59 in the second, and South Atlanta led 36-22 at the half.
The third quarter was the turning point as South Atlanta outscored Swainsboro 22-2. After charging to a 58-24 lead after three, the Hornets cruised the rest of the way.
Despite the large point difference, Swainsboro’s fans were heard throughout the game. “Let’s go, Tigers,” could be heard around the arena into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got great fans,” Hobbs said. “That’s one thing about Swainsboro High School. We have great fans. They follow us everywhere. I’m proud to be a Swainsboro Tiger.”