Area Sports...

OCTOBER 15, 2003

Looking For Redemption
Commerce Faces Athens Academy A Year After Being Upset 14-10 By The Spartans
Jeff Prickett’s renowned Commerce Tiger Yearbook counts that the school has been a victim of an upset 29 times and you don’t have to dig far back in that book to find surprise number 29.
It came exactly a year ago this week when Commerce took a 5-0 record and region championship aspirations into Athens Academy’s Slaughter field and were upended 14-10 in the region opener by a Spartan team which had been obliterated 35-0 by Franklin County in its previous outing.
Commerce went on to win its next six games and reach the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, but despite all the season’s luster, the team’s stumble that October night to the eventual 8-A champions kept the region title from the Tiger trophy case.
Expect the loss to be on more than a few Tigers’ minds when the two teams rematch homecoming night at Tiger Stadium in both schools’ 8-A opener in a game that will put the winner in the drivers’ seat for the region crown.
“We know who we have coming in next week,” Tiger senior David Evans reminded his teammates this past Friday in its post-game huddle after its win over Madison County.
Coming in, according to Commerce head coach Steve Savage, will be another sound Spartan football team.
“Anytime you play Athens Academy, you’re in for a good ball game,” said Savage, who owns a 7-3 coaching record against the Athens area private school. “They’re well-schooled, they play hard. They’re got good kids. “And they’ve got some big players. They might be as big as they’ve ever been.”
Similarities abound for the two schools which have grown into familiar foes over recent history, playing five times in the last six seasons.
Both Commerce and Athens Academy have 3-2 records this year. Both have had injury problems. Both won their first two games. Both lost their next two. And both rebounded in their most recent action in contests where they returned their starting quarterbacks.
Josh Haynes was back under center for the Tigers in this past Friday night’s win over Madison County while all-region quarterback Chris Rogers came back after missing four games with mononucleosis and accounted for three touchdowns in a 38-14 victory over Franklin County.
Despite the lopsided win, Athens Academy head coach Michael Gunn wasn’t ready to say that his team was where it needs to be right now.
“We played well but one game doesn’t mean a whole lot. I’m getting three or four kids back from injury. So we’re just starting to heal — just like Commerce is.”
The team should be more complete offensively with Rogers back at signal caller, however, as he’s a quarterback that can do several things.
“That quarterback they’ve got — he’s a talented guy,” Savage said of Rogers. “He runs well, he’s strong and he can throw the ball.”
In addition to Rogers ability at quarterback, Athens Academy also has a solid tailback in junior Beau Gilmore who ran for nearly 100 yards in the second half in the Franklin County game.
“They’re running the same plays that they’ve always run,” Savage said. “Athens Academy is a running football team. When you play Athens Academy, you’ve got to stop the run first. Plus, they can throw the ball.”
Gunn said the Commerce team his group will travel to face won’t be any different than any of the others he’s seen as 13 years as Athens Academy’s head coach.
“They’ve got a good quarterback and a good tailback and their line plays hard and they don’t make mistakes,” he said. “It’s been that way ever since I’ve been at the Academy and it’s been something that’s been really successful for them over the years.”
•Commerce and Athens Academy have both played five games and share three common opponents — Franklin County, Lincoln County and Madison County. Both teams lost to Lincoln County and beat Franklin County while the Tigers beat Madison County this past weekend and the Spartans lost to them 13-7 Sept. 12.
•Commerce and Athens Academy have become well-acquainted over the past few years, playing 10 times since 1990 and meeting on the summer scrimmage field as well in past preseasons. Commerce even let Athens Academy use its home field for a second-round playoff game last year. So as for a rivalry between his school and Commerce, Gunn said if there is one, he’d like to think of it as a friendly one.
“I hope their kids like our kids because our kids like theirs,” he said. “We don’t feel that way about everybody.”

Lady Leopards’ season ends in region tournament
Banks enjoys improved fast-pitch mark in second year
Should the Banks County fast-pitch program need to look for positives from its second season, the Lady Leopards won’t have to look far.
Their progress was markedly obvious, improving last year’s 3-17 mark to an 8-14 varsity finish this season and nearly tripling their win total.
“A goal for this year was to improve over last year, which we have done,” head coach Kevin Gaines said. “The total number of wins between varsity and JV increased from four a year ago to 10 this year.”
Banks also picked up the fast-pitch program’s first ever trophy with a second-place finish in the Flowery Branch Invitational to open the season. And the Lady Leopards showed statistical improvement offensively over last year’s team.
“The number of batters batting over .200 increased from four last year to seven this year,” Gaines said. “I told the players that you have to improve each year. If we can improve next year over this year, then we will have a lot of potential.”
The Lady Leopards stand a good chance of making some real progress next season. Only one player will graduate from the roster, Nicole Powell.
And while her presence will no doubt be missed in the field and at the plate, Banks will return the core of both its offense and defense, the majority of which are only sophomores this year.
The Lady Leopards’ 2003 season ended Monday after their second loss in the area softball tournament.
Monday’s final game in the area tournament was one that saw the Lady Leopards ahead, then behind, then battling to tie the game and then behind again. Banks fell 7-4 to Union in the contest.
“We had two bad innings that doomed us,” Gaines said. “We were still battling to tie it back up 4-4. Earlier in the season when we lost the lead we probably would have collapsed. By fighting back the way we did, it showed a heart and determination by the team.”
The Lady Leopards started off the scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Rachel Walker reached base on an error and then stole second. She later scored to go up 1-0 off an error on a ball that Nicole Powell hit.
In the third, Banks added another run. Hannah White walked and went on to score on a single off Hope Autry’s bat. The run gave the Lady Leopards a 2-0 lead.
But in the top of the fifth, Union responded to take the lead. Three walks and an error allowed four runs to score and give Union the 4-2 lead.
By the end of the sixth inning, Banks would have the game tied.
Powell reached after being hit by a pitch. Kayla Parks then walked and both runners advanced on wild pitches to put them at second and third.
Powell then scored on a ground ball from Brooke Whitmire. Parks also came in on a Nikki Redmon ground ball to tie the game at 4-4.
But in the top of the seventh, Union took the lead back. Two straight singles, an error and a double brought in three runs to push the Lady Panthers ahead 7-4.
Banks put up an effort in the seventh. Autry picked up a single and moved into scoring position off a stolen base. But the Lady Leopards couldn’t capitalize, ending the game and the season.
A Rabun County upset of Wesleyan in the final game of the regular season forced the Lady Leopards to travel to Norcross to open tournament play Thursday. Banks fell 8-1 in the game.
“We defended the bunts and slaps well, unlike last time,” Gaines said. “But they hit the ball real well.”
Wesleyan started the scoring in the bottom of the first, taking a run off a single and an error.
The Lady Leopards came back to tie the game in the third, picking up their only run of the contest.
Kayla Dodd singled in the inning. She then scored stole second and scored on an error off a ball Powell hit to tie the game at 1-1.
But in the bottom of the inning, Wesleyan jumped out to a 5-1 lead off four hits and an error.
In the bottom of the fourth, Wesleyan finished the scoring for the game. The Lady Wolves picked up four singles and capitalized on some smart base running to go ahead 8-1.
Banks had a chance to cut into the lead in the fifth. Brittany Harris singled and was bunted over to second by Kayla Sims. But the team left Harris stranded in the field.
The Lady Leopards’ Powell picked up a base hit in the sixth but was also left stranded on base.
Again in the seventh, Banks put on a runner, this time a walk to Whitmire. But the Lady Leopards couldn’t capitalize, ending the game with an 8-1 loss.

Improved Indians’ size a concern for Jefferson on Friday
Jefferson travels to Towns County this Friday to meet a much improved Indian team than the one they demolished a year ago.
While their roster numbers were only in the high-teens a season ago at Memorial Stadium, this time around the Indians will have nearly twice as many players (30) and wins (2) as they did for the 2002 campaign. Already this year Towns County managed to upset Walker and defeat Andrews (N.C.).
With playoff implications on the line, the Dragons will face a bigger team in more ways than one in Hiawassee.
Jefferson coach Bill Navas described the Indians in two words. “They’re huge,” he said Tuesday.
“They’ve got a lot more size than anyone we’ve seen this year. We’ve just got to go out there and play good, solid hard-nosed football [in order to win].”
Boasting at least one Division I prospect among their lineman in offensive tackle and nose guard Robbie Elliott, Jefferson’s relative size disadvantage to Towns County will likely be at the forefront of Friday’s game.
Towns County coach Jeff Stowers plans to use that size to his team’s advantage in the game by playing a physical style that he hopes will limit what he sees as Jefferson’s strength, their team speed.
“Jefferson’s certainly got some great athletes out there and they’ve got as much team speed as we’ve seen all year so we’re going to have our hands full,” Stowers explained.
The meeting will be the first time the Indians (2-3) have played a region contest this season. Meanwhile, the Dragons opened their region schedule a last Friday with a convincing win over lowly Athens Christian.
The Indians head into the contest on the heels of a Saturday loss against Ashville (N.C.) in a game in which they trailed by a touchdown at the half before falling 28-15.
Stowers indicated he plans to use his team’s size up front to help win the battle at the line of scrimmage and hopefully, he said, run the ball effectively on offense.
“We’re bigger than they are up front and we feel like we can run the ball on them. We’re just going to have to go out there and try and do what we do well and see what happens.”
Although improved, Stowers also stated that he still feels like the Indians have a long way to go before they can battle for a region championship.
“Hopefully we can just find a way to sneak up on a few team’s a vie for that final [fourth] playoff spot,” Stowers said.
Jefferson is among the region’s better teams such as defending 8-A champion Athens Academy and No. 6 Commerce, Stowers said. With an inconsistent but athletically gifted Social Circle team also in the hunt for the region title.

A much different task
MCHS to face a Northview program searching for a foundation
Once again, Madison County’s football team will tangle with a coach Savage this week.
But this time it will be Don Savage of Northview, not Steve Savage of Commerce.
The last names of the head coaches will be the only similarity between the Raiders’ opponent this Friday night and this past Friday night’s foe.
A polar opposite from Commerce, Northview (0-6), in only its second year of existence, is a prime example of a program still taking baby steps with no wins to its credit so far in a 16-game history.
“It’s a trying process but h’ere getting there,” Savage said.
Without a single victory to build upon, the second year coach said he’s had to search hard for other areas to measure its progress in its fledgling years, looking for any small victory he can find to show his program that it’s making strides despite being 0-for-its brief history in the win column.
For instance, the coach points out that the team kicked a 43-yard field goal this past Friday in its loss to Etowah — an after thought to many teams but a significant footnote for Northview if you consider it’s the first time it’s happened in the school’s history.
Then there’s the turnover margin.
Savage said that this year’s team is committing seven fewer turnovers while forcing five more, giving a 12 point improvement in that department.
He even goes as far to point out a slight minimal in yards per rush average over last year as an indicator of progress.
Overall, the coach says he charts at least 20 offensive and defensive categories for his team.
“We want things were we can say, hey, here’s where we’re better,” Savage said of his number crunching.”
Despite the Titans winless record, Raider head coach Tom Hybl said Northview is a better team this year than the one his group shellacked 58-0 last fall and warned that the Titans will be unpredictable on the offensive side of the ball.
“They give you 36 offensive formations,” he said. “They pretty much show you everything under the sun. They’re an offensive threat, no doubt. They’re bigger and stronger than last year.”
Part of the offense that the Raiders won’t have to see is tailback John Compton, the team’s leader, who broke his leg last week in North view’s loss to Etowah and is out for the season.
Compton had gained 65 yards on eight carries in the second half alone before sustaining his injury.
“Losing him his going to hurt,” Savage said.
That means the multi-layered offense will have to rely on quarterback Matt Ciepiela, a two-year starter, who is also the team’s punter and kicker. Ciepiela was shaky in his first year under center last year, throwing 21 interceptions in 2002.
His favorite target will be Gershom Bigham who has 15 catches this year and four touchdowns
On the defensive side of the ball, Savage said his team will rely on two very different players — James Boegel, a small, scrappy middle linebacker who weighs “160 pounds soaking wet,” and 6’3” 245-lb. nose guard Kevin Whitehurst, the brother of Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and nephew of former Green Bay Packer David Whitehurst.
Savage said his team, which suits up 29 juniors and 28 seniors, has quite a challenge on its hands Friday night with Madison County which he says runs a tremendous scheme on offense.
“I have a lot of respect for what they do,” he said. “To them it’s probably simple, but they run its very well. You never know where the ball is going or who’s going to defend it. Defensively, they fly around everywhere. They might not be as talented as they were last year but they play just as hard.”

One win and they’re in
Victory over Heritage today will earn state tourney berth
The first 20-win season in school history, a second consecutive subregion championship, and a remarkable 17-game win streak at one point this year are all extremely impressive achievements. But, in the eyes of the Jackson County fast-pitch team that accomplished these feats, their season will likely not be what they had hoped for unless they meet their ultimate goal of a state playoff berth.
That goal can be accomplished today with a win over the south’s top seed Heritage in the second round of the Region 8-AAAA tournament in Loganville.
“It would be a big relief,” Jackson County head coach Mark Mahoney admitted Tuesday as his team prepared to meet the defending Class AAAA state champion Lady Patriots. “The girls have put a lot of pressure on themselves to win. It would make everything we have worked hard for worthwhile.”
Monday the team may have expelled their toughest demon. They avenged an opening-round loss in last year’s region tournament with a 2-1 win over Newton, the same team that sent them to the losers’ half of the draw in 2001 where the top-seeded Lady Panthers were then eliminated.
With the top four teams from the region tournament advancing on to the state play offs next week, the Lady Panthers still have to win one more game to assure a spot in the postseason. Two consecutive loses would end Jackson County’s season.
The Lady Panthers are seeded second from the north half of the region. Madison County earned the top seed from the north despite the fact that they shared the subregion championship with Jackson County. The Lady Raiders won a head-to-head tie-breaker between the two teams. Other teams earning wins during Monday’s opening round action included south No. 2 Loganville, which held off north No. 4 Habersham Central and south No. 4 Rockdale County which upset north No. 1 Madison County.
The winner of the Jackson County vs. Heritage meeting today will play the winner of the Rockdale County vs. Loganville game. The Lady Panthers have only faced Rockdale County and Newton so far this year from the south.

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