Euphoria filled the Macon Centreplex on Saturday night when the newly crowned Columbia girls and boys basketball teams climbed into the stands to high-five their fans.
But that didn’t match earlier moments of jubilation at center court when the triumphant boys team hoisted coach Philip McCrary on their shoulders after a 54-46 win over LaGrange. And just hours earlier, the Lady Eagles hugged each other and took turns parading their trophy after a hard-fought victory.
Faced with a tough opponent, the Lady Eagles used grit and tenacity in their 40–36 win over Carver Atlanta on March 13. At 5-feet-3, sophomore Zuri Frost is the smallest girl on the team but one of the most determined and aggressive on the court. Often, when a loud thump from a body crashing onto the court echoed in the arena, it was Frost scrambling for the ball.
From the sideline, animated coach Chantay Frost demanded the best from her girls. With her team trailing at the midway point, a frustrated Frost told her team at halftime, in very strong terms, “Either get it together out there or go home.”
They got it together. The girls rallied to take the lead in the final minutes of the game. Akila McDonald, Columbia’s dominant 6-4 center, fouled out in the final minutes, but the team held on.
“This is wonderful, awesome,” the proud coach said after her girls’ clutch performance.
At the center-court celebration, a tearful McDonald said, “I’m on cloud nine right now. I’m glad to be able to enjoy this moment with these girls.”
After a short break, the Columbia boys took the court. They had an air of confidence and calm during the game, despite their opponent’s aggressive defense. But from the sideline, McCrary seemed exasperated at times. After the game, he said LaGrange forced his team to do things that it’s unaccustomed to doing.
“I’m proud of them,” McCrary said. “We didn’t play well, but well enough to get a win. I’m proud of the kids and the effort they gave.”
Jershon Cobb had 11 of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Eagles held off a LaGrange rally. Cobb added eight rebounds. Tahj Shamsid-Deen scored 14 points and Chris Grier added 10.
One of the most entertaining contests of the night, though, took place in the stands. Columbia fans, decked out in the vibrant orange of the teams’ colors, dueled first against Carver and then LaGrange fans all night long.
Columbia’s cheerleading squad not only pumped up the teams’ spirit at critical moments in the game but also led the Columbia faithful with chants of “defense, a lot-a lot, of defense” and “s-c-o-r-e, score, let’s go.”
But Columbia’s fans needed no cue from the cheerleaders to taunt “airrr-balll” when shots from opposing players missed the net, rim and backboard.
LaGrange’s fans, color-coordinated in the team’s black and blue colors, out-shouted Columbia fans at times. But in the end, it was the Eagle Nation that lifted its voice in triumph.