Area Sports...

February 21, 2001

Leopards to face Coosa
The Banks County Leopards will have their work cut out for them in the upcoming state basketball tournament. But you'd better not tell them that.
"We're not that big, not real quick and not real physical," said Leopard head coach Mike Ruth. "But we will still scrap your rear. To this bunch, it's not over till it's over. We play from the heart, and it's paid off for us."
The Leopards will start out the tournament against the Coosa Eagles, ranked sixth in Class AA in the state. In fact, Banks' side of the bracket in round one sports four teams in the top 10 in the state.
"As far as athletic ability, Coosa is one of the best teams I've ever seen," Ruth said. "The only thing we can do is go in and play as hard as we can."
Coosa, a team from Rome, will put several tall players up against the Leopards. The Eagles also tout a quick guard and a sound nucleus of six or seven players.
"We've got a game plan and I feel like if we follow it, we've got a shot," Ruth said. "If not, they'll blow us out. We can't afford to worry about what Coosa's going to do. We've got to worry about what Banks County is going to do."
Ruth likened the team's current state run to the Leopards' run in 1995 against a tough Taylor County team.
"They had superior athletes," Ruth said of Taylor County. "But we played team basketball and came out on top.
"Against Coosa, we've got to be fundamentally sound and do all the right things and hope we come out on top."
Banks County may not go into this weekend's tourney with the same size and speed as its opponent, but the Leopards will tout a team that has evolved over the course of the season.
The mid-season loss of its leading scorer forced the team to change focus from the individual to the whole team. The result: more effective team mentality and solid performances against tough opponents.
"We've faced some adversity, but our kids have stepped up," Ruth said. "We're pleased just to be in the state tournament."
Banks County also has several younger players that have stepped up to support the Leopards' seniors.
Juniors Cody Whitlock and Will Gordon have both been instrumental in leading roles through the course of the season. And sophomore Dustin Bonds has stepped off the bench several times to aid the Leopards.
"The younger kids had to step in there and help us get the job done," Ruth said. "Bonds has showed the younger ones, 'Hey, let's get in there when we got the chance and get the job done and we'll get to come back and play again.'"
After a strong first quarter, the Leopards fell behind in the second to take a 67-57 loss to Rabun County in the consolation game of the region tournament.
"We played well early," Ruth said. "They started intimidating us and got into our heads. I feel like Rabun County did what they needed to do and used intimidation to get to us."
Banks scored 11 unanswered points to lead the Tigers 19-8 after one quarter. But the Leopards were outscored 20-8 in the following quarter to go behind 28-27 at the half.
In the third, Banks managed to take back the lead. Rabun County, though, came on strong in the final quarter to take the win.
"In the fourth quarter, we had to start fouling," Ruth said. 'That was the difference in the ballgame. I felt like we did all we could."
Rabun's David Adcock hit 19 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter to eat into Banks' lead and help the Tigers take control of the game. Adcock had 30 points in the game.
Mike Ivey and Casey Murray led the scoring for Banks County with 15 and 12 points respectively. Ivey and Murray also had one three-pointer each.
Other scorers included: Chris Ivey, nine; Bray Maxwell, six; Bonds and Corey Sims, five; Joseph Whitlock, three; and C. Whitlock, two.
The Leopards were downed 98-53 by East Hall during their second game in the region tourney.
M. Ivey again led Banks County with nine points.
Also scoring were: C. Ivey, eight; C. Whitlock, seven; J. Whitlock and Gordon, five; Murray, Tyler Sims and Maxwell, four; C. Sims, three; and Bonds and Ross Oliver, two.

Area hoops teams head for GHSA state tournaments this weekend
It all comes down to this.
All the preliminaries have been completed, and the best hoops teams from each region have claimed their spots in the 2001 GHSA state basketball tournament, which begins Friday.
The 2000-01 season has been a good one for area teams, with one winning a region title and three more finishing second. In all, eight of 10 teams within the Mainstreet Newspapers coverage area earned slots in the state tournament.

The Jefferson boys' team downed Commerce 77-74 Saturday at Lakeview Academy, despite 41 points from the Tigers' Michael Collins, to earn the Region 8A crown. Buford finished third and Wesleyan fourth.
The Lady Dragons, meanwhile, finished as region runner-up to the ravenous Lady Wolves of Wesleyan. Commerce was third, followed by Providence.
Jackson County overcame their third loss of the season to Winder-Barrow to take third in Region 8AAA with a win over Eastside. Favorite Hart County won the region crown, and Winder's Bulldoggs were second.
The fourth-place Lady Panthers fell to eventual runner-up Madison County Friday in a hard-fought contest. The effects of the strenuous game showed through Saturday, when Jackson County was easily dispatched by Hart County for third. Franklin County won the region title after upsetting Hart County Friday.
Jackson County will host this weekend's opening-round contests between teams from Region 6AAA and Region 8AAA.
Jefferson and Commerce will make the trip back to Gainesville, for 6A-8A games at Lakeview Academy.
See separate stories and tournament brackets for more information.

Tigers Take On The Walker School Saturday At 8:30
The post-season begins Saturday night for the Commerce Tiger basketball team.
Second to Jefferson in the Region 8-A tournament, the Tigers are one of 32 Class A teams in the hunt for the state championships. They'll play The Walker School, from Region 6-A, at Lakeview Academy.
"They're smart, but not real quick," said head coach Rex Gregg of the Atlanta private school's team. "They play a little like Athens Academy, but at a faster tempo. They look a lot like us sizewise."
If they win, the Tigers will go to Rome the following Thursday.
The Tigers are the second seed from 8-A. Buford, seeded third, will play Adairsville, the number two seed from 6-A, at 5:30 Saturday, also at Lakeview Academy. 8-A champ Jefferson will play Galloway, the number four seed from Region 6-A, at 8:30 Saturday at Lakeview, while Wesleyan, seeded fourth, takes on Whitfield County, the top seed from Region 6.
Jefferson's Dragons demonstrated once again that they're the best team in Region 8-A, though Commerce made them work hard to eke out a four-point win in an exciting championship game Saturday night, 79-74.
"That was as much effort as we've put into a game all year, especially in the fourth quarter," Gregg stated. "I was proud of them. Jefferson just has a great team.
"It was typical of the other times we played them this year. We got off to a good start and led after the first quarter all three times, but it didn't do us any good. The key is the third quarter, where they outscored us pretty good."
Commerce missed eight free throws during the quarter and Dragon Michael Newton hit three big three-pointers.
Commerce led 22-21 after one period and Jefferson was up 46-39 at the half. By the end of the third quarter, Jefferson had a 66-47 lead and the Tigers seemed to be out of the game.
"In the fourth quarter, we really got after it," Gregg said.
Then disaster struck. The Tigers were pressing, Jefferson threw the ball away, and the referee gave it to the Tigers. But another referee overruled the first and gave the ball to the Dragons. Jefferson missed the shot, Commerce recovered and turned the ball over on a traveling call.
Michael Collins was unstoppable, producing 41 points and hauling down 10 rebounds. Twion Shealer scored 17 to go with 12 rebounds in what Gregg called his best game of the year. Rob Brown scored nine, Dustin Martin and Casey Gary two each and Brody Bearden added one.
The Dragons had more balance, as usual, with four players in double figures. Shaudrick Martin scored 24, Dontonio Chandler 22, Newton 11 and Buzz Wehunt 10.
Getting to play Jefferson in the finals required a victory Friday night over Buford, and the Tigers prevailed in another down-to-the wire finish punctuated by big plays.
The Tigers jumped out on top early, taking a 16-8 first-quarter lead and leading 25-13 at the half in a slow-paced game. Buford began closing the gap in the third period, after which Commerce led 34-30, and then made the Tigers earn the 55-49 win in an exciting final period.
"I thought we played pretty well. The tempo was slow, but that might have suited us," Gregg said. "We took care of the ball very well."
Collins, who had 84 points during the tournament, hit six of eight three-point shots. But Buford adjusted to the Tiger game and got into a rhythm in the third and fourth quarters. They tied the game with about four minutes left, but Collins hit a three-pointer and Collins, Shealer and Wes Smith all made big free throws to ice the game at the end.
Collins scored 25 points and Shealer 17. Massey added six, Bearden three and Gary and Vonté Reed scored two apiece.
"I didn't substitute any in the second half. I don't think that's ever happened before," said Gregg.
"It was a huge win. We'd never beat Buford twice in one year before, and it was our first time to beat them in a region tournament game. They beat us in '98 and '99 and last year they beat us in the semifinals of the region and kept us from going to state."

Madison Co. falls in region championship, looks to rebound at state tourney
Regardless of a trip to state, it was a night of heartbreak and Kleenexes Saturday for the Lady Raiders.
But the Madison County girls' basketball team will head into the state tournament hoping not to carry the emotional baggage of Saturday's 33-31 loss to Franklin in the region championship on their shoulders.
Head coach Tim Cook said he thinks his squad will be able to move on from the setback, saying that his 22-6 team is one that has learned to roll with the punches during the season.
Though the Lady Raiders' postseason hopes will continue, the defeat at the hands of the rival Lady Loins was an inconsolable moment regardless for the Madison County players and the red-clad throng that made the trek to Loganville.
Madison County, who had prevailed in two of the previous three contests against the Lady Lions, had to watch Franklin take the region crown, denying the Lady Raiders their first 8-AAA championship banner in over a decade.
The trophy will rest in Carnesville with the tournament dark horse Franklin County, who was the number three seed in the north subregion. The Lady Lions pulled off the feat by stunning top-ranked Hart County Friday night, then driving a dagger through the Lady Raiders' hearts a night later.
Head coach Tim Cook said health problems plagued them in the contest against Franklin. Both Ashley Myers and Tera Bellamy were sick during the contest, while Brittney Escoe was on the bench due to a severely sprained ankle.
"We were the most sick and injured in the biggest game of the year," Cook said.
Cook also pointed out that the team shot poorly in the championship contest with the squad registering only 31 points on the night.
"If you'd had told me before the game that we'd only give up 33 points and still lose, I would have thought you were a liar," Cook said. "But we just didn't put the ball in the hole during the last game."
Cook was able to find some positives in the tournament in which Madison County picked up two wins-61-32 over Loganville Tuesday and 62-43 over Jackson County Friday.
"We did a lot of good things," he said. "I think the defense was good all tournament."
The Lady Raiders will look to get back on the winning track Saturday night as they are set to take on Haralson County at 7 p.m. at Jackson County High School. Cook said Madison County's first-round region foe will throw an unorthodox style of basketball at them.
"They play an offense that's almost a throwback to the 1970s," he explained. "They play a half court offense and hold the ball about 35-40 seconds...They're going to work the ball inside and look for a high percentage shot....It's very different basketball than we see in our region."
Cook added that the Haralson outfit plays "very disciplined ball" while also being a solid free throw shooting team.
The coach said the key to success for the Lady Raiders is to take their opponents out of their game. With Haralson using five main players, Cook hopes the Lady Raiders can get into a full court game and wear the Lady Rebels down.
The team also hopes they will be with the services of the squad's sharp-shooter, Escoe, for the contest, but Cook said the senior's ankle is still questionable.
"It's not broken, but it's severely sprained," Cook said of Escoe's injury, adding that she will get an extra day to nurse the injury since the team will not play till Saturday. "The swelling has gone down a lot, but it is still tender."

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