Hornets Swarm Atom Smashers: Savannah Country Day Captures Region Title with Dominant Defense

By Jacob Inness/Special to the Prep Sports Report | February 18, 2024

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After a pair of 3-point wins in semi-final play, the stage was set for the GHSA 3A Region 3 Championship game between #1 seeded Johnson High School (15-10) and #7 seeded Savannah Country Day (13-15) on Saturday night. Both teams entered the matchup riding a 3-game win streak, saving their best basketball for post-season play.

Last time out, Savannah Country Day finished off Long County by a score of 56-53 to advance to Saturday’s championship, led by Freshman Rudy Anderson, who finished Friday’s game with 25 points. Johnson High defended their home court utilizing balanced scoring with three players in double digits, led by Favion Kirkwood, who finished with 20 points. Johnson survived a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Calvary’s CJ Gaines to advance to the championship matchup by a final score of 54-51. Heading into Saturday, the teams had split their regular season matchups 1-1, with Savannah Country Day winning the most recent game on January 20th by a score of 62-54.

A game that seemingly looked like a toss-up on paper did not disappoint the Savannah Country Day fans as they defeated Johnson High from start to finish in a nearly sold-out house by a final score of 60-52. Country Day used their matchup 2-3 zone and dominated the points in the paint battle to manage tempo and keep Johnson from making a significant run throughout the game. Spearheaded by senior big man Robert Spaulding, who finished with a game-high 22 points, Savannah Country Day built an early lead. It was able to scathe off a late push from Johnson, securing the Class 3A Region 3 Championship.

The first quarter opened with Savannah Country Day playing their familiar 2-3 matchup zone defense, keeping Johnson uncomfortable and allowing them to build a 20-8 lead by the end of the quarter. Johnson struggled to possess the ball early, coughing up the rock seven times to Country Day in the first 8 minutes of play. Country Day’s defense also got a huge boost from Sophomore Stone Wells, who took two charges against Johnson during the first quarter. Sophomore Joshua Washington also pitched in by picking up a charge against Johnson. Offensively, Country Day’s go-to-senior, Robert Spaulding, was unstoppable early on, scoring ten first-quarter points and shooting a perfect 5/5 from the field.

Johnson switched up defensive tactics to start the second quarter and pressed Country Day in a full-court 1-2-2. Country Day had no trouble dissecting the zone defense by getting the ball to the middle of the floor and attacking downhill to the basket. With the game slipping away at the 4:30 mark in the second, Johnson was down 32-8. Head coach Derrick Campbell called a full timeout to rally his team. 

Following the timeout, Johnson came out with a renewed defensive focus and held Country Day scoreless for over four full minutes until the end of the second quarter when Spaulding hit a pull jumper from the left corner to put Country Day up 34-14 at the half. During the scoring drought for Country Day, Johnson was aided by taking a couple of charges of their own, one by sophomore Quentin James and the other by junior Samuel Priester. Both offensive fouls came on Country Day’s freshman scoring threat, Rudy Anderson, forcing the freshman to the bench after picking up his second offensive foul in just 2 minutes. 

Despite Johnson’s defensive intensity, there seemed to be a lid on the basket for them late in the second quarter. Johnson attempted multiple open 3’s and quality shots from within the middle of the zone, but the ball refused to find the bottom of the net for the Atom Smashers.

Coming out of the half, Johnson continued to ramp up their defensive pressure, playing Country Day in a full-court man press that held the Hornets to just 11 third-quarter points. Johnson’s coach, Derrick Campbell, made some strong adjustments at half-time, allowing the team to finally find success in the middle of Country Day’s stifling 2-3 zone. This was kick-started by Junior Favion Kirkwood of Johnson, who hit back-to-back jumpers from the elbow. Johnson followed this by picking up a clutch three from the Class 3A Region 3 player of the year, Joshua Quarterman, followed by the best assist of the night from Quarterman, hitting his teammate in stride with a no-look pass from the top of the key for an open layup. Johnson used this offensive push to go on a 9-0 run in the 3rd quarter and cut the lead down to 12 heading into the fourth.

Despite the third-quarter push from Johson, they couldn’t keep Savannah Country Day out of the paint in the fourth quarter. After some back-and-forth play, with a minute and thirty seconds to go in the game, Savannah Country Day had extended their lead back to 15 points behind the efforts of sophomore Joshua Washington. Washington picked up 6 points in the fourth quarter and could be seen serving as both a leader and floor general toward his teammates, encouraging them to slow down the ball and work the possession for a quality shot attempt. 

Johnson didn’t go down without a fight. With under a minute to go, Johnson’s Joshua Quarterman hit a transition layup to cut the lead down to 7. A costly turnover ultimately doomed Johnson when their player was called for stepping over the line on an inbound pass that could have helped them cut the lead even further. Senior William Whitfield iced the game for the Hornets, hitting four consecutive free throws to put the game out of reach. Country Day showed great composure and put forth a complete team effort to fend off Johnson and bring home the regional championship with a final score of 60-52.

Savannah Country Day 60, Sol C. Johnson 52

  1 2 3 4 Final
SCDS 20 14 11 15 60
SCJ 8 6 19 19 52

SCDS (60) - Spaulding 22, Washington 12, Anderson 12, Whitfield 7, Wells 5, James 2 

SCJ (52) - Quarterman 22, Priester 13, Kirkwood 11, Jones 4, Davis 1, James 1



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The "Coach" Karl DeMasi has been teaching and coaching for the past 35 years on all levels of academia and athletics. One of his hobbies has been writing, announcing and talking about sports. DeMasi has been involved in the Savannah Area sports scene since 1995, and he created the high school magazine "The Prep Sports Report" in 2000. In 2010, the "Coach" started broadcasting The Karl DeMasi Sports Report. He's still going strong, broadcasting on Facebook live and Twitter live every Saturday morning. You gotta love it!

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