WE ARE THE
2 — 2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
Fourth title honors friend Panthers bring home ﬁrst state title BY PATTY LEON
BY PATTY LEON email@example.com
Liberty County High captured its first state title March 3, upsetting Jonesboro High 58-52 for the Class AAAA trophy. It is the first state title in any sport for LCHS since the school opened in 1990. The championship game was at the Macon Centreplex, where a slew of Liberty County fans wore black T-shirts in support of the team. The pace was fast and furious. The point spread narrow. A mere four points separated Liberty from the two-time defending champions at the end of the first and second quarters. That advantage was enough for the Panthers to build on as they controlled the ball and the clock to claim the title. “It was an unbelievable feeling to be named state champs,” Panther head
coach Julian Stokes said. “We have been talking about this since the Final Four of last year.” Stokes said his players knew that if they played well throughout the season, there was a strong chance they would meet Jonesboro again this year. “Revenge has been on our minds for the past year, and to knock off the two-time defending state champions was amazing,” he said. The Cardinals covered Panther guard Davion Mitchell, as was expected. But they failed to realize Liberty’s talent extended beyond one player. Richard LeCounte played aggressively and tipped back
a couple of treys to pull his team ahead. Sophomore Will Richardson looked composed as he nailed every free throw, controlled the ball and nailed a 3-pointer, much to the Cardinals’ dismay and surprise. LeCounte ended the game with 20 points, Richardson 19, and Mitchell scored 14, all in the second half. “After the game, I just expressed how extremely proud I was of them and that they should enjoy the moment,” Stokes said. “We made history Thursday night and did a wonderful thing by bringing the community together and bringing that title back home to Liberty County.”
They had done so three times before, and after a three year hiatus, they did so again. And this time, they did it for Ernie. First Presbyterian Christian Academy claimed its fourth Class AA state title March 5, beating Furtah Prep 80-64. The game was played at Mercer University in Macon. It was a legacy fulfilled and one that started in 2008, when FPCA won its first Georgia Independent School Association title. The Highlanders followed that up with another state title in 2009. Both of those teams were coached by Darrel West. In 2010, FPCA three-peated, winning the championship under head
coach David Jones. In 2011, St. James Coastal Crew Rebels founder and youth mentor Ernie Walthour Sr. took over as Highlander head coach. FPCA kept winning GISA region titles, but kept getting knocked out of the title game by the eventual state champs. In July 2013, Walthour was gunned down, the victim of an apparent armed robbery. His death shocked the Rebel and Highlander communities. Walthour’s friend Shane Smith took over as head coach and he, along with Walthour’s longtime friend and assistant coach David Linderman, vowed they would bring home a trophy for Walthour one day. Most of the current Highlander players still fondly remember Walthour. Some even played for the younger
Rebels team he showcased. After the win, Smith hoisted the trophy and honored his friend. “Three years ago, when I started, we dedicated our season to winning the championship in his honor, and we fell three points short of that,” Smith said, adding that he knew, one day, FPCA would honor Walthour with a title. “He is still a part of FPCA,” Smith said. “No doubt in my mind that he was with us on Saturday.” Smith thanked school administrators, volunteers and students who supported the team throughout the season. Smith said he is still in awe of what his team accomplished. “It feels amazing,” he said. “I’m still enjoying the feeling.”
WE ARE THE
LLiberty Cou unty Hiigh H g Scho ool and F rsst Presbytterian Fi Ch C hri ri tia rist i n Aca ademy!
CONGRATULATIONS TO FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHRISTIAN ACADEMY AND LIBERTY COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
CHAMPIONS! Congratulations to the Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Christian Academy Basketball Teams on their State Championship!
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2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS — 3
Photos by Charles Smith
Left: Panther Richard LeCounte wins the tip-off in the championship game against a Jonesboro High player. Top: The Liberty County High School basketball team and cheerleaders gather together for a pregame pep talk.
McDonald’s is LOVIN’ the Liberty County High School & First Presbyterian Christian Academy Boys Varsity Basketball Teams Congratulations Panthers on bringing home the 4A State Championship and the Highlanders for their win!
WE ARE LIBERTY PROUD! Melissa Carter Ray, Agent
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CONGRATS ON BECOMING THE 2016 GHSA STATE & GISA CLASS A STATE CHAMPIONS
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4 â€” 2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
Photos by Edward Blackmon
Top: Liberty County High School basketball players celebrate thier victory with their fan base inside the Macon Centreplex. Right: Panthers Richard LeCounte and Davion Mitchell celebrate with a chest bump after their win.
2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS — 5
Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Christian Academy Basketball Champions Photo by Charles Smith
Liberty County High School alumnus and ﬁrst year boys’ basketball coach Julian Stokes talks with the media after his Panther team took down the two-time defending state champs.
111 West Court St • Hinesville, GA 31313 912-332-7077
6 — 2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
The GHSA Class AAAA State Champs
Liberty County High School The GHSA Class AAAA State Champs
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First Presbyterian Christian Academy GISA Class AA State Champs
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Photos by Charles Smith
Top: FPCA’s Trayvon Harris attempts a shot in the Sweet 16 game at Bradwell Institute against Piedmont. Right: Highlander George Mitchell leaps for a shot. FPCA went on to win its fourth state title. Mitchell was among the Highlanders’ three top scorers this season. For the ﬁrst time, FPCA hosted the ﬁrst two rounds of the state playoffs.
Congratulations on your
Championships! Auto Shine Car Wash congratulates Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Christian Academy 715 W. Oglethorpe HWY • Hinesville, GA 31313 • HWY 84 (Next to Sonic) • 912-408-2280 Hours - Mon - Sat 8 am-6 pm • Sun 9 am-5 pm
Congrats to a successful season Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Christian Academy from South Georgia Bank
2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS — 9
Photos by Charles Smith
Left: Senior Highlander Jimmy Ouyang battles a Piedmont Academy player in the Sweet 16 game at Bradwell Institute. Top: FPCA’s Simon Steele gets wide open for a shot in the Sweet 16 game against Piedmont Academy.
We’re Liberty County Proud! Congratulations Liberty County Panthers! The GHSA Class AAAA State Champs hamps
M E D I C A L
First Presbyterian Christian Academy GISA Cl Class l AA State St t Champs Ch
C E N T E R
www.libertyregional.org | 912.369.9400
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Photos by Charles Smith
Top: FPCA’s Isaiah Scott was among the Highlanders’ top scorers throughout the season. Right: Highlander Khalyn Weekley had big shots and, like Scott, was among the scoring leaders this year.
Congratulations First Presbyterian State Champions!
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2016 STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS — 11
Photo by Edward Blackmon
Top: The FPCA Highlanders, FPCA coach Shane Smith and Liberty County High School basketball players Will Richardson, Josh Washington and Davion Mitchell gathered in prayer shortly before the Highlanders boarded the bus for Macon to play in the state title game.
Congrats Panthers & Highlanders! The Sheriff’s Ofﬁce would like to say
CONGRATULATIONS to the Liberty County High School and First Presbyterian Basketball Team Champions!
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Liberty County High School & First Presbyterian Christian Academy on your
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS from everyone at the