Area Sports...

January 09, 2002

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Hoops teams dive into subregion
Leopards to host Dawson, travel to Towns. Last weekıs snow may have frozen the Lady Leopardsı basketball plans, but they are hoping for a quick thaw.³If history repeats itself, anytime we have a long layoff, we look awful in the next game,² Lady Leopards head coach Mike Gordon said. ³Hopefully, we can get tuned back up and focused in the right direction.²
Banks County (7-4, 0-1) was scheduled to travel to Rabun County Friday night. But due to the snowstorm that swept through the area, Banksı plans were changed. The Lady Leopards also had to cancel practice late last week due to the storm.
³We had an open gym Saturday and Sunday for those that could get in,² Gordon said. ³We did some shooting around.²
With the first half of the season behind them, the Lady Leopards are beginning to get into the all-important subregion. Tuesday, they were to face Apalachee, a team they beat 55-41 in their second game of the season.
On Friday Banks will host Dawson County before taking on East Hall at home Tuesday. Both teams will likely present tough competition for the Lady Leopards.
³Anything can happen in this subregion,² Gordon said. ³We have got a fight with East Hall and Dawson County. Both of them are hot at the time and have been winning a lot of games.²
Banks County will have to beat one of the two teams to have a shot at finishing in the top three in the subregion. The Lady Leopards lost their first subregion game to GAC before Christmas.
³We are going to have to rise to the occasion if we want to compete with them,² Gordon said.
Banks County will split their games against Dawson and East Hall by traveling to Towns County Saturday night.
The Leopards (5-7, 0-1) are hoping to keep last weekıs snow from throwing them off course.
³Itıs probably going to hurt us some, but I donıt know how much,² head coach Mike Ruth said.
Ruth said the break in action benefited the Leopards, allowing several sick athletes time to recuperate.
³We were sick when the holidays broke,² he said. ³Everyone seems to be well right now.²
After finishing last year with a win in the WJJC Commerce Holiday Classic, Banks looks to carry the momentum over into its upcoming subregion games.
³Finishing the old year with a win gave us a pretty good boost,² Ruth said. ³Everybody got to play and it was good for morale.²
Banks County was slated to face subregion foe Apalachee Tuesday night. The Leopards lost 72-64 to the Wildcats in the Madison County Tipoff Tournament in November.
Friday, Banks County will host Dawson County, a team that has been on fire recently.
³They have blistered everybody,² Ruth said. ³Dawson has won eight straight.²
Banks Countyıs performance in their next few subregion games will help determine crucial seeding going into the region tournament.
³Everything is up for grabs,² Ruth said. ³I say East Hall is going to win the subregion and I feel like Dawson County, with the way they are playing, could slide into second easily.²
Should East Hall and Dawson take the top two spots, Banks would be left fighting with Apalachee and GAC for third and fourth.
³²It is early enough into this that we donıt have to worry about other teams beating each other,² Ruth said. ³As of right now, we have control of our own destiny as of whether we are going to get back to the playoffs.²

Wrestlers Set For Busy Week
Last Fridayıs Games With Jefferson To Be Made Up Tonight (Wed.) Extreme winter weather wiped out Commerce hoop action this past weekend, but a crowded schedule awaits both the boysı and girlsı squads in their return to the hard floor.
The boys will play their rescheduled matchup with Jefferson tonight (Wednesday)—which was supposed to be played this past Friday—in addition to matchups with Lakeview and Tallulah Falls this weekend, and a home contest Tuesday with Buford.
Things arenıt much lighter on the girlsı side either.
The Lady Tigers will also make up their contest with Jefferson tonight, but will face only one foe this weekend—Tallulah Falls—before taking on Buford Tuesday. There is no varsity girlsı matchup with Lakeview.
Both teams played Wesleyan this past Tuesday, but results were not available as of press time.
Boysı head coach Rex Gregg said that the opening week of region action will be another step in the growth process of his squad as they build toward the postseason.
³Weıre a young basketball team,² the coach said. ³Weıve got to go out there and get better game by game.²
And how the team plays against the top squads in the region could tell a lot about how fast the team is jelling.
The Tigers (3-4) already played one of the regionıs top teams in Wesleyan and faces the other in their matchup with the rival Dragons.
Gregg said Jefferson, despite some recent losses, is still the top team in 8-A.
³Theyıve got the best athletes and basketball players in our region,² he said. ³Theyıve played extremely good competition and lost to some good teams.²
In addition to competing with powerhouses, Commerce will have to bring their ³A games² against the lower-tier teams in the region. The Tigers will play two of them this weekend—Lakeview, which went 10-12 last year, and Tallulah Falls, which finished 7-15 in 2000-2001.
Gregg pointed out there are no ³gimmies² their quest to become a solid outfit by postseason time.
³Weıre just an average team trying to get better,² the coach said.
Two players that have helped the team get better so far are senior Rob Brown (15.1 PPG) and up-start freshman Tyson Randolph (12.9).
Both are having banner years this season, especially from beyond the three-point arc. Brown is hitting 40.4 percent of his threeıs while Randolph is not far behind at 39 percent.
³So far, both of them have played fantastic,² Gregg said.
Gregg added that Randolph has been a clutch player despite being young, pointing to his key three-pointer and free throws down the stretch in a close loss Dec. 29 to Athens Academy.
In addition to Brown and Randolph, the coach said they needed another player to step and help carry the scoring load.
³We need some scoring inside,² Gregg said.
Regardless, the Tiger coach said the team has made early strides.
³Weıre still searching,² Gregg said. ³But weıve got a lot of kids playing pretty good.²
This should be a barometer week for the Lady Tigers (3-4), letting them know just where they fit into the Region 8-A picture.
After all, they will have played the best after its over.
Tonight (Wednesday), the team will take on defending state champion Jefferson after playing runner-up Wesleyan this past Tuesday (results werenıt available).
³We definitely have a challenge in front of us,² Watkins said Monday of the tough competition. ³Itıs a way to measure where we are...It lets our young players know exactly what theyıve got to do.²
Commerce then canıt afford a let down Saturday night when they take on Tallulah Falls which went 1-21 last year.
For the Lady Tigers to have a solid showing this week and the rest of the year, theyıll have to avoid some of the mistakes that have hampered them during pre-region play.
After losing to Banks County 69-24 Dec. 16, Watkins pointed to three problem areas—turnovers, free throw shooting and hitting close shots—that theyıd have to improve.
Almost a month later, the coach said his team is still struggling with those parts of the game.
³Weıre turning the ball over way too many times,² Watkins said. ³Part of that is youth and part of that is panic.²
In addition to the teamıs shots from the charity stripe, the coach said the Lady Tigers percentage from close range would have to increase.
The coach the pointed out that that they missed 17 inside shots in their 65-38 loss to Oglethorpe.
While Commerce is young this year, theyıve been led by the a trio of players with valuable experience off the bench a year ago making an impact in starting roles this year.
Sophomore Stephanie Rainwater leads the team in scoring with almost ten points a game while junior Mashenta Hester has been strong on the boards, averaging eight a contest.
Meanwhile, Senior Crystal Rainwater has a key role player, leading the team in assists and steals.
³Crystal doesnıt lead us in any of the flashy categories,² the coach said. ³But she provides us with leadership and we knew weıd have to have it.²
Watkins added that with the teamıs injury situation, several others have contributed with key minutes—Ashley Evans, Heather Beck, Jennifer Pope, Tiffany Smallwood, Whitney Brown and Shay Klugh.

Game of the week? Pick one.
IF YOUıRE a sports junkie, this is the week for you. With three big-time clashes set for this week, picking the game of the week might leave you with a serious neck injury. Add to that the fact that in all three events, area teams are the underdog, and youıve got enough to whet even a fair-weather sports fanıs appetite.
The high-powered events kick off tonight in Lilburn, when Jefferson, the top-ranked wrestling team in Class A, meets the host Parkview Panthers, currently ranked second in the stateıs largest classification, AAAAA. The Panthers had been ranked first earlier this season.
Another Class AAAAA team, Jonesboro, is also scheduled to square off with Jefferson and Parkview tonight.
Not to be outdone, Jefferson and Jackson County basketball teams will get into the action as well.
Jackson County hosts Winder-Barrow Friday at 7 p.m. The Bulldoggs are fifth in the latest Class AAA boysı basketball poll, but are coming off a lackluster performance against Madison County. Jackson Countyıs 10th-ranked Lady Panthers will try to avoid being upset by the Lady Doggs, who blew away Madison County Saturday.
The week ends with Wesleyan visiting Jefferson Tuesday at 6 p.m., featuring a rematch of last seasonıs girlsı state championship final. Wesleyan has already earned payback with an easy win over the Lady Dragons in December, but Jefferson hopes to even this seasonıs series at home. Jeffersonıs boys will look to rebound after a somewhat surprising loss at Athens Academy last Saturday.

Raiders enter subregion play on high note
The ball finally seems to be rolling.
The question now is, can the Raiders keep it moving once the ³real season² starts?
Madison County (4-9) enters 8-AAA North Subregion play on the heels of a 10-point win over Athens Christian Tuesday and perhaps their strongest showing of the year in a nine-point loss to fifth-ranked Winder-Barrow Saturday.
However, the Raiders first subregion test Friday night against Elbert County could threaten that momentum.
Head coach Steve Crouse explained that the Raiders would have find a way to contend with Elbert Countyıs ³tremendous² team speed if theyıre to get past the Blue Devils.
The coach added Elbert (5-8) would throw a balanced mix of man-to-man and zone defenses at Madison County.
³Weıre going to have to protect the ball and execute our offense,² he said.
Offensively, Crouse explained that the Blue Devilsı attack is twofold, working the ball inside to their strong post players while also kicking the ball out to sharpshooting guard Hakeem Rivera.
Madison County hopes their defense Saturday can stack up against Elbert County the way it did against Winder-Barrow, surrendering only 54 points to one of the stateıs top teams in the loss.
The Raiders followed the setback with a x-x win over Athens Christian.
Moral victories donıt do much for the stat book, but theyıre good for the occasional boost—especially for a team short on wins.
Crouse hopes thatıs the positive drawn from the teamıs 54-45 loss to fifth-ranked Winder-Barrow Saturday night.
³Hopefully, it will convince them that they can play at a high level,² he said.
In falling six games under the .500 mark, Madison County managed to do all the right things to stay a float with one of the stateıs best teams, but couldnıt do enough to push themselves over the top, falling by nine-points on the road.
The setback dropped them to 3-9 on the year.
The upset-minded Raiders held a lead for much of the first half and survived a third quarter Bulldogg barrage to keep the game close the rest of the contest. However, turnovers and missed rebounds eventually killed Madison Countyıs opportunity to slay the giant.
The Raiders played the part of the dominant team early on, getting turnovers, rebounds and, most importantly, points to run out to a 17-9 lead early in the second quarter.
However, the momentum of the game switched sides as intermission neared.
Winder-Barrow put together a 13-2 run to end the half up 22-19, thrusting Madison County into the catch-up role the rest of the evening.
And the Raiders looked like theyıd have a hefty game of catch-up to play the way the third quarter started.
Winder-Barrow outscored Madison County 11-2 in the first three minutes of the period, running out to a 33-21 lead.
However, senior leader Ben Baker took the Raiders on his shoulders and carried his team back into the contest, sparking a 13-2 run behind three three-pointers to close the gap to 35-34 with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Baker led Madison County with 20 points on the night.
³Ben just stepped up and kept us in the game,² Crouse said. ³That was big, and thatıs what you expect your senior leader captain to do.²
But the athletic Bulldoggs wouldnıt let Madison County inch any further, getting a barrage of second-chance shots and offensive rebounds to push their lead out to 46-38 with a minute and a half left in the game.
The Raiders managed to pull with in three after Baker drained three free throws at the 1:19 mark, but time was running out.
Madison County then squandered their last opportunity moments later when they came down the floor, trailing by six points, and threw the ball away.
In the loss, Center Orlando Lattimore enjoyed night offensively, keying in the Raider early-game success with eight first-quarter points.
Adding points in the contest were Chris Faust, who finished with four; Stephon White, who had three; and Reshould Collins, Trey McCay and Bryan Bird all had two.

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