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CHS standing in Blue Devils' way

    FORT VALLEY — For the last three weeks, the Statesboro Blue Devils have been involved in plenty of back-and-forth matchups, some incredible individual scoring efforts, a pair of buzzer-beaters, and – most importantly – nothing but wins.
    One more of those victories today will punch Statesboro’s ticket to the Class AAAA state championship game.
    The Blue Devils (28-3) were seconds from elimination against Rutland on Wednesday night in Macon, but a huge defensive stop and a last-second bucket pushed them through. Today, Statesboro will get its biggest test yet as it squares off against Columbia (26-3) in the Final Four.
    “It’s a great thing to be one of the last four teams still playing for a championship,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “This is a special experience for all of our guys. We’re happy just to be invited to this party, but we’re going to do our best to win it.”
    To go the distance and bring home its third state title in school history, Statesboro will first have to find a way past the imposing Eagles. Columbia has taken home the last three Class AAA state championships and hasn’t slowed down one bit since moving up to the higher classification this season.
    Statesboro comes into today’s game as the higher seed since Columbia did not win its region tournament, but the two Eagles losses in region play were suffered at the hands of South Atlanta — another team still in the hunt for the Class AAAA title — and the only other loss came against North Gwinnett out of Class AAAAAA.
    Leading the way for the Eagles is point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen. The senior is averaging over 20 points per game, has already committed to play for Auburn next year, and would love to finish his high school career with four state titles.
    “Columbia is a team that has seen it all before,” Hill said. “They’ve played in the biggest games and won championships. The only playoff wins our guys have ever had have been in the last few games. Columbia is going to be tough, but we like being in that spot where we have something to prove.”
    The Devils showed their championship pedigree in the Elite Eight when their outside shooting — the bread and butter of their offense all season — went ice cold. Team scoring leaders Zaquavian Smith and Yakeem Coleman were held to just eight and six points, respectively, but O’Aaron Ware and Alex Simmons came to the rescue. Ware’s season high 19 points were just enough to get Statesboro past Rutland and another huge effort might be necessary today.
    “It takes everyone playing well to move on this far,” Hill said. “You might have a few guys who can really score, but that isn’t enough at this point. We need everyone to bring their best game.
    “A lot of people probably didn’t expect us to get here, but I think that all of us believe that we can accomplish big things.”
    The winner of today’s game advances to the March 7 state title game in Macon against either Eagle’s Landing or South Atlanta.
    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.