MACON — The Bethlehem Christian Academy boys’ basketball team knew it would have to play practically mistake-free to have a shot at knocking off defending state champion The Heritage School of Newnan on Saturday, Feb. 22, in the GISA Class AAA quarterfinals at Tattnall Square Academy.

The Knights came out aggressive on defense and shot the ball well early, but the Hawks got the spurt they were looking for, using a 13-0 run midway through the first quarter to establish command and roll from there to a 69-49 victory, denying the Knights a second straight trip to the state semifinals.

Heritage (20-7), which eliminated the Knights in last year’s semifinals, advanced to its fourth straight Final Four with the win behind senior forward Maclean Hoekwater’s 20-point effort. The Hawks will take on Cristo Rey Atlanta in the Final Four on Thursday, Feb. 27, at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

“We competed and weren’t going to go down without a fight,” BCA coach William Steele said after the loss. “The kids were not scared. They fought and did what they could do. I was proud of them for taking on the challenge.”

After senior guard Ray Peevy’s 3-pointer put BCA (12-16) ahead 5-2 with 5:58 left in the first quarter, the Hawks got hot, tying the game on a 3-pointer by Ju’Wel Wilson on the ensuing possession. Hoekwater ripped a three on Heritage’s next trip down the court, then stole the ball at half-court and raced down for a dunk. After another steal, Wilson hit another three, and then one more Knight turnover led to an easy basket by Grant Evans.

The Knights never got any closer than nine points the rest of the way, and Heritage stretched its advantage to as many as 29 points midway through the final period.

“They got that little push (in the first quarter) and that was really it,” Steele said. “Once we got behind, it was hard to come back because they were in control of the game. We really had to shoot well to try to chip away and we did a little. But every time we started to chip away, they came up with a big play.”

The Knights wrapped up their first season with Steele at the helm, and the coach said he saw improvement throughout the course of the season, culminating in a 52-49 win over Southland Academy in the first round of the playoffs Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Heritage.

“Each day and each game, their basketball IQ increased,” Steele said. “A lot of guys were scared to come out of their box at first, but after a while, they started doing different things and showed a willingness to learn different things. I’m very proud of the team.”

Seven seniors played their final game for the Knights on Saturday, including Peevy, a four-year starter who scored all 11 of his points in the first half, 9 of them in the opening quarter. Matthew Binns had a strong second-half performance, scoring 14 points to finish with a team-high 16. Jacob Adams and Laine Jean Francois tallied 5 points apiece, while Eliel Saint Louis and Andrew Richey each finished with 4.

“Those guys stepped up well,” Steele said. “Binns was an X-factor for us. That’s a guy who wasn’t starting earlier in the year. But he went out there and worked and proved that he should be in the game. He earned his time on the court and that’s very good, especially if he wants to play ball at the next level.

“And a shout-out to Jacob Adams. He’s our rock. He was my go-to person to calm things down when they needed it and speed things up when they needed it.”

But with the entire starting five gone, the Knights must now have this year’s underclassmen step up and take on much bigger roles. Junior Ethan Guthas (4 points) was the lone non-senior to score in Saturday’s game. Steele’s son Simon and a handful of other players who saw playing time this winter lead the group the coach is counting on for the future.

“It all starts with the offseason,” Steele said. “They have to start working now. They can’t wait until basketball season is in. They know my expectations going forward. They need to come through that door when we get going on summer practice already prepared to show how they’ve progressed in the areas they need to get better at.”

B 11 9 10 19 — 49

H 20 16 14 19 — 69

B: Matthew Binns 16, Ray Peevy 11, Jacob Adams 5, Laine Jean Francois 5, Eliel Saint Louis 4, Ethan Guthas 4, Andrew Richey 4

H: Maclean Hoekwater 20, Ju’Wel Wilson 13, Connor Thompson 13, Reece Overholt 6, Jonathan Williams 6, Ebenezer Dowuona 4, Grant Evans 4, Owen Markel 3

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