Area Sports...

NOVEMBER 5, 2003

State Champs!
CHS Downs Jefferson 6-3 In Programs’ Final
Game To Take Class A-AAAA State Championship
Commerce probably couldn’t have scripted a matchup with a more fitting opponent in a better game to close the chapter of slow-pitch softball against.
The Tigers (26-11) proved to be the best of the teams left playing softball in the state in Class A through AAAA as they downed rival Jefferson 6-3 Saturday in Columbus to take the inclusive A/AA/AAA/AAAA crown in both program’s final games.
“It feels wonderful. It feels great,” 20th-year head coach Donnie Drew said. “You want to play hard and win in any tournament whether it’s an area tournament or a state tournament. It’s all about getting to state and doing well. I think we did well up and down the line. We may have raised our level of play and we may have gotten a little lucky. But you have to be a little lucky to win state.”
The Tigers’ finest hour came against a Dragon team that had dominated the season series between the two prior to the start of state tournament play. In fact, Jefferson had outscored Commerce 47-24 in taking four of six contests.
But Commerce won the two that mattered most — the first coming in dramatic fashion.
“I think it worked to our advantage playing them as many times as we did because we knew them well,” he said.
The Tigers, who downed Rockdale County 14-0 and Jackson County 13-1 to meet 30-5 Jefferson in the winners’ bracket Friday afternoon, trailed the Dragons 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning before seniors Katie Wilbanks and Ashley Evans stepped up with the heroics.
Wilbanks supplied a game-tying RBI while Evans, who hits to the right side of the field “80 or 90 percent of the time” according to Drew, drove in the winning run with a hit down the left field line, moving Commerce to within one win of the championship.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved with,” Drew said of the win.
In the championship, Commerce got solid hitting and defense, jumping to a 4-0 lead after three inning and holding the Dragons off the rest of the way. The final out was recorded on a fly out to senior Stephanie Rainwater, setting off a massive celebration.
Drew said he felt his team and Jefferson would still have had two of the top programs in the state if circumstances had been different and said the title still means the same to him regardless of the number of teams at the tournament.
“It’s certainly not going to take anything away from it for me personally,” he said.
The Tigers’ play in the state tournament was a microcomism of how the team had performed during the last 28 games of the year. Commerce’s season started slowly at 4-5 after two pre-area play tournaments, losing to teams like Heritage, Jones County and Jackson County.
However, Drew said he finally sorted out his lineup before the Sept. 13 Jackson County tournament and things sparked from there.
“That’s when I think we started believing in ourselves,” he said.
The team, which ironically started with a 7-6 win over Jefferson, went a perfect 6-0 that day, part of what would become a 22-6 stretch to end the season, including an 8-2 mark in the postseason.
“We peaked at the right time and that was instrumental in how we played, especially in those two games against Jefferson,” Drew said.
As for next fall, Drew doesn’t know if he’ll be in the dugout as a fast-pitch coach or not but thinks we could coach the sport with the same ability as he did slow pitch.
“We haven’t talked about it yet,” he said. “I guess some of us that have been involved slow-pitch and some of those involved in fast-pitch would be the logical candidates. We want some doing it that wants to be doing it.”


Leopards need win Friday to keep playoff hopes alive
Lumpkin County team a threat to run and throw the football
Nobody can count the Leopards out of the playoffs just yet. But if they hope to play more than 10 games this season, they’ll have to win Friday.
“If we beat Lumpkin and Union, and GAC beats Lumpkin, we’re in,” Banks County head coach Greg Moore said.
The Leopards (3-5, 2-4) could still end the season with a 4-4 region record. Doing so, coupled with a Lumpkin loss to GAC, would put Banks County and Lumpkin County with identical region records. The Leopards would win the tiebreaker and go to the playoffs.
But Banks must get past an offensive-geared Lumpkin County team that has averaged scoring 36 points per game this year.
“I think they are really good,” Moore said. “Coach Hoblitzell is a hard-nosed, old-fashioned football coach. They are real physical and they like to knock the stew out of you too.”
One of the Indians biggest weapons has been senior quarterback David Richardson. The exceptional passer scrambles as good as he throws and is likely the best player under center the Leopards have faced.
“What concerns me most is not how much they’ll throw it but how good they throw it when they do throw it,” Moore said.
The Lumpkin backfield also touts potent tailback Dorian Dorsey, who ran for more than 1,300 yards last season.
Lumpkin County coach George Hoblitzell said the success of his backfield lies with the blocking of fullbacks Erik Good and Derrick Case. He added that offensive lineman William McClure and Derek Brucker enhance the offense.
But he said he expects a challenge out of the Leopard defense.
“I think Banks County has one of the best defenses in the region,” Hoblitzell said.
The game Friday will be just as important for Lumpkin as Banks. The Indians are also looking at making a state playoff berth.
“It’s an awfully big ballgame,” the Lumpkin County coach said. “We’ve got to win it. We really want to go to the playoffs.”
The game will mark the Indians’ finally home contest of the season. Hoblitzell said he expects the battle to be physical.
“Banks County has played us tough the last couple of years,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for them. We expect a good game.”
The Leopards are hoping to go into the contest without any major injuries. Jimmy Bryant and Chase Martin were both hobbling this week and Moore said his team is banged up from the battle with Greater Atlanta Christian.
NOTEBOOK
•The Leopard defense ranks fifth in the region, giving up an average of 25 points per game. Meanwhile, Banks’ offense averages 21 points per game scoring.
•Lumpkin County has given up an average of only 18 points per game this season.
•The outcome of Friday’s game could very well decide who gets the fourth seed in Region 8-AA. The Leopards need the two-loss Lumpkin County team to finish the season with four region losses in order to edge by them for the playoff spot.


Slow-pitch seasons conclude
Jefferson bids farewell to coach, program after 23 years
Jefferson High School said good bye to a coaching legend this past weekend in Columbus at the slow-pitch state tournament.
Longtime JHS softball coach DeMaris Gurley coached her team to the state finals of the tournament before falling to Commerce in the deciding game 6-3 to earn state runner-up status. She announced earlier this year that she is retiring from coaching softball. Although the conclusion Saturday was not as she and her team had hoped, in the end it was the memories, accomplishments and friendships over the last 23 years that stand out in her mind.
“It’s bitter-sweet,” Gurley said. “A lot of my friends have come from the program, not just the children, but also the parents as well. I feel like I’ve lost a family, but I know it’s time to move on.”
Playing in the seven-team Class A through AAAA state competition, Jefferson was the runner up to the Lady Tigers on Saturday after heading into the weekend with the No. 1 seed. After a bye in the first round, the Lady Dragons demolished Jones County in their first game of the tournament, winning 11-1 in six innings. A meeting with Commerce followed and despite Jefferson holding a 7-6 lead heading into the seventh inning, the Lady Tigers rallied with two runs in the bottom of the inning to earn the win.
The loss dropped the Lady Dragons to the loser’s half of the draw where they again met Jones County, this time in an elimination game. An 18-15 victory over the Lady Greyhounds followed and set up a rematch with Commerce for the state crown.
Commerce came out strong in the first inning, posting three runs to take an early lead. After another run in the third, the lead was upped to 4-0 before Jefferson cut it to two in the fourth. Commerce came right back the next inning, however, scoring two more insurance runs. Jefferson tacked on a late run in the sixth, but the Lady Tigers hung on for the state title.
Despite the defeat the Lady Dragons still had a remarkable season, Gurley pointed out. Their 30-7 mark was the better than all of the other six teams in the state’s first four classifications. But then again, success has been a part of the Jefferson program for a long, long time.
“I guess the key to it is the dedication of the children and parents,” Gurley said. She noted that a large part of the success can be attributed to the positive encouragement and support the JHS community provides. Because they are constantly praised, she says that optimism shows up on the field in the form of confidence in her players. “It’s a mind set,” she said.
As for the current team that leaves as the last slow-pitch squad in school history (Jefferson will compete in fast-pitch next season), Gurley stated that they are a special group.
“These are like 14 daughters,” she explained. “But it’s time to move on.”
The transition to the fast-pitch game next season should be a smooth one, according to Gurley. She stated that because it has been a gradual move that has taken several years to become official, she anticipates the program will be able to adjust to the differences in the game.
“I think it’s coming at a very good time, we have several up-and-coming kids that have been playing (fast-pitch) and taking private lessons...I really think we’ve brought it along in the way we should.”
Although no coach has been named yet to coach the fast-pitch team next season, two coaches from this year’s slow-pitch team have experience with fast-pitch.
Gurley stated that, coaches Ron Hopkins and Andy Fowler, both assistants under her, would be good choices for the job. She also anticipates coach Brad Puckett will stay on as a fast-pitch coach in some capacity next year.
“You want to go in there with the character built and do it the right way, and I think we’ve done that,” Gurley said.


Going out a winner?
Winning season on the line against
struggling Cross Keys
The Raiders may have been awestruck by their foe this past Friday night but that shouldn’t be a problem this week.
Madison County faces a major departure from Class AA juggernaut Buford — which pounded the Raiders 41-8 over the weekend — when it takes on winless Cross Keys (0-9) Friday night.
If Madison County can take care business against the Indians, it would end the year over the .500 mark at 5-4-1, giving it 28 wins in four years of non-region football.
A win over the lowly Indians would also send out 12 Madison County seniors a victors in their final game. The group came in as freshman in 2000 — the Raiders’ first season in non-region football.
The contest will not only close those seniors careers but will also close the chapter of non-region football as well. Madison County will return to a region format in 8-AAAA next season.
Cross Keys — which must play all its home games at North Dekalb Stadium — is another school playing non-region football in hopes of rebuilding a program but it has seen little success.
When the Indians downed Carver-Atlanta 6-0 Sept. 27 of last year, it was a cause for celebration.
After all, it was the program’s first win since 1998, snapping a 25-game losing streak.
But the victory hasn’t proven to be a springboard.
In fact, the status quo has remained as the Indians enter Friday night’s contest against Madison County in the midst of another sizeable slide — this time a 14-game losing streak.
Clearly, Cross Keys’ story is one of the most trying in the state as the 5-AAA Atlanta-based school has lost 39 of its last 40 games and 55 of 58 since 1998.
And the way they’ve lost hasn’t been pretty either.
The team gave up an average of over 40 points a game from 1998-2001.
Things improved only microscopically in 2002 with the team surrendering 34.2 a game but Madison County rang up 52 points on Cross Keys in a win over the Indians in Danielsville.
As with virtually all struggling programs, depth is minimal at best with Cross Key’s bench consisting of less than 10 players. That group is mostly made up of freshman and sophomores who have to split time with the junior varsity.
The Indians only brought 26 players to Danielsville for last year’s game against Madison County.


Panthers hope to shake off heartbreak Friday at Loganville
There’s not much anyone can say to the Jackson County football team that will ease the pain following their devastating fourth quarter defeat at the hands of Habersham Central last week. Instead, the best way to shake off the 39-36 defeat may well be to hit the practice field once again and continue to work on getting better in preparation of this week’s trip to Loganville.
That’s exactly what the Panthers have been doing all this week, with the same resiliency that has been present all season, according to coaches.
“They’ve rebounded,” Jackson County head coach Brent Brock asserted Tuesday. “Everybody’s back at practice, everbody’s ready to go and I’ll be very disappointed if we’re not ready to play (Friday night at Loganville).”
The Panthers (0-8) came up on the short end to the Raiders of what was an up-and-down, back-and-forth affair that seemed like which ever team had the ball last was going to win. Instead though, Habersham Central’s defense made a stand on Jackson County’s final possession and held on for their first win of the season.
“It was a very disappointing night,” Brock admitted. “We had great expectations about winning a ball game.”
That said, the Panthers appear just as eager to take on the Red Devils this week and hopefully come away with their first win of the season.
“Before the season started we felt like there were a number of teams which we had closed the gap on and made some strides on, and Loganville is one of those teams,” Brock said. “We’ve played some good football teams and so have they.”
The Red Devils (2-6) have had their share of problems this year so far, most recently a 31-0 drubbing to Newton last week during which some six turnovers plagued them.
“We simply turned it over way too many times to have a chance,” Loganville head coach Tommy Stringer said of last week’s performance. “We would move the ball a little and then give it up. You can’t win like that.”
Prior to that game, Winder-Barrow handled the Red Devils easily as well, winning 35-5. The Panthers played both of those teams tough in losses, and that’s something that has Stringer wary of Friday’s meeting.
“Jackson County has some guys who can play, and they are more physical this year,” Stringer said. “Like us, they don’t have much speed, but they do have one or two guys who can break it. They are also playing better defense this season. We will have to be ready to play. There is no guarantee of winning just because it’s Jackson County.”
Brock joked that fans who want to see the game had best get there early, because the two ball-control-style teams may run the clock out in a hurry. While the Panthers typically try to win the the time-of-possession battle with long, time consuming drives, the Red Devils are similar on offense. Using a wishbone backfield, Brock stated that Stringer’s team likes to pound away on the ground and they rarely throw.
As usual, the Panthers will hope to limit the big plays Friday, especially following last week’s loss that was the result of a Habersham Central split end pass for the game’s final touchdown

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