MACON, Ga. — Michael Downing couldn’t stop smiling.
The senior scored 15 points in Augusta Prep’s GISA Class AAA semifinal game, a 36-34 victory against rival Westminster at Mercer University to advance the Cavaliers to their first state championship game.
“It’s not really about me, it’s about the team,” he said. “But I had a good game. It was awesome out there. That was the most competitive game I’ve ever played in. It was so much fun.”
The Cavaliers (20-8) withstood a
second-half comeback by the Wildcats, who tied the game at 25 at the
buzzer of the third quarter. In the fourth, the teams traded leads in rapid play at both ends of the floor.
Then Downing made a short jumper with 1:05 to play, drew a foul and nailed the free throw. Another free throw with 4.2 seconds helped the Cavaliers seal the win.
“We stuck together, even when they had a comeback,” Downing said. “We didn’t get too rattled. We stayed together as a team and worked together, made shots, played defense and came out on top.”
The teams played four other times this season, with close scores in all the games. The loss dashed Westminster’s hopes.
“I’m proud of them and proud to be their coach,” Westminster head coach Mark Tebbs said. “It was a great season. I’m proud of (Augusta Prep head coach Mike) Guthrie and his staff and his kids, (but) I’m gonna go in here and hurt for my kids. I wanted them to have the first opportunity in school history to play, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The Cavaliers shot 15 of 24 from the floor and limited the Wildcats (17-11) to 15 of 44. Westminster went to the free-throw line only twice, while Augusta Prep made 4 of 7.
Augusta Prep will play Stratford, which beat Tattnall Square 71-50, at 8:20 p.m. Saturday at Mercer.
“Either way, the team’s gonna be awesome,” Downing said. “But I think we’ve proved we’re an awesome team. We can’t wait. We’re ready for the challenge. It’s a dream for us to be in the game, we want to win for sure, and we think we have a chance to do so.”