On the night Central dedicated the court to legendary coach Scott Cowart and where the Lions honored their five seniors — Blake Reese, Stephon O’Neal, Kahlil Wynn, Justis Ward and Shaq Allen — they celebrated the festivities in grand style courtesy of an 80-50 rout of Jackson, Atlanta to secure the No. 3 seed for next week’s Region 4-AAA Tournament at Douglass High School in Atlanta.
And for first-year Central coach Darius Smiley, Friday proved to be just what the doctor ordered heading into the postseason.
“It was a special night all around. A legend like coach Cowart, to honor him. Our seniors, we’ve got a good senior class. I told those guys [Friday] that this season alone, they’ve matched the win total from the last two seasons [combined], so I wanted them to understand that they’re building something for the future. And that’s something that they can be proud about,” Smiley said. “But overall, it was a great night, a great atmosphere. The student section was in it. Our guys came to play.”
Central (14-10, 9-5 Region 4-AAA) placed four scorers in double figures, with the seniors leading the charge. Reese and Ward posted double-doubles, with Reese scoring 18 points with 10 boards, while Ward added 14 points and 12 rebounds. Allen added 17 points and Wynn also dropped in 14 points with five boards. Sophomore guard Elijah Ross gave a solid effort with 13 points.
The Lions were nearly automatic from the charity stripe on Friday, going 22-of-28 for the game, including making 17 straight during a stretch from the end of the second quarter to early in the fourth. Central went a perfect 14-of-14 from the line in the third quarter to extend a three-point halftime edge to 18 points going into the final eight minutes.
The Lions will play their opening game in the region tournament on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., and Smiley said he’d love to get into that championship game, which would mean his ball club could be no worse than a No. 2 seed for the Class AAA state playoffs and get to host a first-round game. But first things first, Central has to take care of business on Wednesday.
“Whoever we get, they’re going to come ready to play and we’re going to have to battle it out with them. We’ve got to be able to battle it out with them,” Smiley said. “We’re going to take the weekend off and come back Monday and Tuesday and get prepared.”
Central girls 64, Jackson, Atlanta 49: Lady Lion coach Jimmy LeBlanc was getting tugged by emotions from just about every angle Friday, and it wound up being a night he’ll cherish for quite some time.
Along with seeing the court dedicated to his coaching mentor, Cowart, it also marked Senior Night for his daughter, Sydney, who delivered a 13-point performance in the final regular-season home game of her career.
And, just in case that wasn’t enough, the Lady Lions (20-5, 13-1) were also playing for a share of the regular-season region title.
“There was a lot of emotion and a lot of things going on [Friday]. I felt like our kids did about as good a job as you can do to keep it all together. It was a good win. We’re glad to get it,” Jimmy LeBlanc said. “It’s almost like one of those homecoming games, where a lot of things can go wrong. But we came out unhurt and on top — and that’s what matters.”
Central built a 19-8 lead after one and extended it to 38-20 by the half. The Lady Lions got up by as much as 27 in the fourth quarter before the Lady Jags (9-15, 5-9) closed the game on a 14-2 run to make the final score look a little more respectable.
Sherae Bonner led all scorers with 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds, as the junior forward went 15-of-16 from the free-throw line. Along with Sydney LeBlanc’s 13 points, sophomore forward Brianna Cousins also reached double figures with 10 points and eight boards. Hayley Sims and Jasmine Thrash both posted eight points to round out Central’s top scorers.
Central will have a coin flip with Chapel Hill at the seeding meeting on Sunday to determine the No. 1 seed for next week’s Region 4-AAA Tournament at Douglass, where the Lady Lions have a first-round bye and will play on Friday, regardless of what happens with the coin flip.
And while Jimmy LeBlanc will get his squad ready for whoever it faces next week, Friday night was about celebrating CHS Athletics, and notably Central basketball.
“When you look at the history of our school, it’s just an honor to be a part of what’s going on [Friday]. It’s an honor to coach at this school, it’s an honor to coach these girls. But then to call somebody like Scott Cowart my mentor, that’s an honor to do that, as well,” Jimmy LeBlanc said. “So it was pretty emotional all the way around.”