May 16, 2021

Little Braves celebrate mighty big GRPA State Championship

(Baxley, GA) — The Heard County Parks and Recreation 8U boys basketball team traveled far from home over the weekend, but the trip was well worth the effort as the young squad battled through a grueling slate of games to capture the Georgia Recreation and Park Association’s 2021 Class C State Championship.

The all-star team of nine boys coached by Matt Shiver and Juan Coleman were tasked with winning four games in less than 24 hours at the tourney held at the Appling County Recreation Center in Baxley, GA and the energetic group of boys did just that.

The Little Braves began the tournament with an impressive 32-10 pool play win over Fitzgerald late Friday night.

The little big man on the team, Skylar Thomas led the Braves with 14 points while Connor Autrey also finished the night in double digits scoring 10. Waylon Taylor scored three while Brayden Philpot and LaMarcus Echols each tallied two.

The 2021 GRPA Class C 8U State Champions

Following the late night win, the Little Braves were right back at it Saturday morning in an 11:30 AM match-up versus White County in the quarterfinals.

The Braves had their biggest scoring effort of the entire weekend taking down the group from Cleveland, GA by a final score of 36-19.

Thomas again led the way for the Braves with 11 and Kingston O’Hara had his best game of the tourney scoring seven points, all in the second half of the game.

Autrey had six points and Taylor scored three.

The Braves advanced next to the semifinals where they met a familiar foe from the West Georgia area in the Tallapoosa Rebels.

The Braves had already beaten the Rebels earlier this season and would do so again handily defeating the Rebels 26-11 in a game forfeited by Rebel coach Mike Wright with the Rebels trailing the Braves 26-11 in the third quarter.

The Braves top ball handler Brayden Philpot was the star of the semifinal win scoring 12 points in the second and third quarters. Connor Autrey scored nine and O’Hara had three.

In the championship game, the Braves faced off with the City of Pearson from Atkinson County for the supreme 8U bragging rights in the state.

The Braves got off to a slow start versus Pearson trailing 5-0 early before they stormed back with a 15-2 run to take a 15-10 lead at the half.

Autrey led the Braves with six first half points and 12 in the game as the Braves would break it open in the second half in route to a 32-24 title game win.

Philpot and Thomas again had nice efforts scoring eight and seven points respectively. Kingston O’Hara closed out his great tourney with five points.

Taylor and Echols led the way defensively while the younger players Gavin Cosper, Brayden McClendon, and Tucker Coleman played some quality minutes for the Little Braves off the bench.

Shiver was pleased with the effort of his little guys playing so many games in such a tough tournament environment on the road especially his kids that were coming back from an early loss in last year’s tourney.

“Those six kids were able to pave a path for us this year by coming back and finishing something they had started a year ago. I knew there was something special for those kids that returned, and through the season the kids got better and proved they could compete at they level they needed to — those kids wanted to prove something and came back with an attitude that reflected what winning a championship would take,” said Coach Shiver after the tournament.

Shiver says the addition of the three new players was also crucial to the squad’s success.

“We needed more and that’s why these kids that filled in were so special too — Tucker Coleman, Brayden McClendon, and Gavin Cosper. They each brought their unique ability to the team to help compliment the group and made every moment count when they came onto the floor,” added Shiver.

“It felt like each kid on the team was able to carry the weight of the other when one was not able to perform and that was special! They really cheered for each other and made this season such a special one.”

The title is just the third basketball state championship and fourth overall documented state title in the history of HCPR.

HCPR’s last basketball state title also came from the 8U division in 2011. The first state basketball title came way back in 1982 in the 14U bracket. The 12U Lady Braves won a Dizzy Dean State Softball Championship in 2019.

Recreation Director and Heard County Athletics Hall of Fame basketball coach Kathy Scott was also excited for the young group of boys.

“This team was an awesome group to watch throughout the season. They worked well together as a team and the coaches did an excellent job preparing the team for the state tournament,” said Scott.

“I am very proud of their accomplishments on and off the court. Each player understood his role and portrayed the true meaning of team. Looking forward to watching these guys play at the middle school and high school. I am very proud of their accomplishments.”

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