Area Sports...

NOVEMBER 26, 2003

One Down
CHS Runs Away From Whitefield In Second Half In First-Round Playoff Win
Don’t let the Commerce grinding it out style fool you. The big play is alive and well in its arsenal.
It’s been there all year long and was ever-present Friday night in Commerce’s first-round matchup with a stubborn Whitefield Academy outfit.
The Tigers hit the second-year Wolfpack with three scores from over 25 yards in the second half to distance itself in a 42-21 win over a team making its first-ever venture into the postseason.
Josh Haynes scored from 48 yards out, Dennis Wilder hit Hank Tiller for a long touchdown off a halfback pass and Taylor Streetman finished the Tigers’ night with a 25-yard romp in the fourth quarter which gave Commerce a comfortable 28-point edge after only leading by seven early in the third.
The Tigers’ second-half offensive explosion contrasted a first half were Commerce mistakes kept Whitefield in the game.
“I never really thought the game was in danger but we made it look closer than it should have been with some penalties,” Tiger head coach Steve Savage said. “But we won and we got out of there.”
When Commerce had the ball, it was nearly unstoppable, scoring on six of eight possessions and rushing for 352 yards on just 30 carries.
But the Tigers totaled eight penalties for 90 yards, the most damaging of those coming on the defense where two personal fouls in the first half which negated two third down stops. That helped Whitefield hold the ball for 15:50 over the first and second quarters and stay within a touchdown for most of the half.
Commerce got on the board in the game quickly thanks to a long punt return by Wilder which put the ball at the Whitefield Academy 21. Bray scored from two-yards out to cap a brief three play drive and the Tigers led 7-0 just three and a half minutes into the game.
But speedy tailback Stephen Wright stunned Commerce moments later, getting free around the right corner and going 73 yards on a sweep for the first of his trio of scores on the night.
Wright ran for 232 yards on the evening.
“Our guys played him like he didn’t have any speed and we found out that they did,” Savage said.
While the Tigers answered with a 75-yard scoring march capped by three-yard run by Haynes, they missed the extra point and later faced the possibilty of trailing at the half after Whitefield’s Brian Andrews picked off a Josh Haynes passs at the Tiger 35 late in the second quarter.
But what soon followed was a 15-point swing as Tyson Randolph recovered a fumble on the 10 and Commerce flew 90 yards — 54 of that coming on one run by Wilder — in just over a minute for a one-yard score by Haynes, who also tacked on a two-point conversion, and the Tigers led 21-7 at the break.
Credit Whitefield for managing to hang around briefly in the third quarter though.
The Wolfpack recovered an onsides kick and Wright broke loose for a 30-yard score two plays later to cut the Tiger lead to 21-14.
But that’s when Commerce unloaded its trio of big plays on Whitefield.
Haynes broke free for his 48-yard romp to give the Tigers a two-touchdown lead with 9:23 in the third quater. Wilder connected with Tiller for their second touchdown on a halfback pass in the last three weeks after finding him for a 44-yard score Nov. 8 against Jefferson. This one went for 53 yards and Commerce led 34-14 with 6:06 left in the third.
Streetman’s 25-yard score came off a fullback dive up the middle in the middle of the fourth quarter.
The game wouldn’t end before Wright found the endzone again though.
He scored from 60 yards out on the game’s last play on the Tiger subs, giving him163 yards rushing on his touchdown runs alone.

Nice Debut
Lady Leopards, new coach open with a win; tourney on tap after holiday
Lady Leopard head coach Jodie Watkins couldn’t have hoped for much better of a coaching debut.
Her team took a season opening 63-47 win over Towns County Saturday. But Banks’ true test will come Friday when the team faces Watkins’ former high school coach and fundamentally-sound Fannin County.
“Friday is a huge game for us,” Watkins said.
She said she’d heard from several people that her former high school coach at her alma mater is a little nervous about facing her.
“He better be nervous,” Watkins joked. “It will be an exciting game for us.”
She said Fannin will be more fundamentally sound than Towns and won’t make some of the same mistakes that helped the Lady Leopards last weekend.
The Fannin County game will be Banks’ opening in the Towns County Tip-off Tournament. The Lady Leopards will play at 4 p.m. Saturday. They’ll face Nantahala, N.C., at 4 p.m. in Hiawassee, one of Banks’ half-dozen trips to Towns.
Banks 63, Towns 47
One thing the Lady Leopards struggled with last season was inconsistent scoring through all four quarters. It wasn’t a problem last week.
Banks put up 16 points in three of the quarters and 15 in another as they opened the season with a win.
“I was excited for the girls,” Watkins said. “One of the biggest problems we had before was confidence. I told our girls to feed off the win.”
The Lady Leopards showed a lot of aggression, both offensively and defensively in the debut.
“I liked how we pushed the ball up the floor,” Watkins said. “We got away from it in the second half. I liked the aggression and how we were getting after it.”
The game gave the Banks County coach the first look at her team against outside competition, a chance to evaluate their progress and areas of weakness. She said her team will be working on taking care of the ball and some fundamentals of the game.
“Overall, they played well,” Watkins said.
She added that after the game her girls received one of the biggest compliments they could get. An official approached her and said that in his 10 years of officiating Banks County basketball, the girls played the best game he’s seen them play.
“The refs are not biased,” she said. “The girls are to be commended for that.”
Junior Kayla Duncan led the team in scoring over Towns with 19. Freshman standout Kayla Parks added 18 and was a perfect 4 for 4 on the free throw line.
Chastico Beasley was also in double digits on the night with 11. She hit all four of her free throws during the game and also nailed a long ball. See page 2B for more scorers from the game.
Defensively, Banks kept any single Towns County player from reaching double digits in scoring. Their leading scorer, Jamie Dean, put up nine in the effort.

Movin’ On
Dragons travel to Trion for second round game Friday
If the Jefferson football team has a recipe for an upset in their arsenal, now is the time to break open that cookbook.
Friday the Dragons will head to Trion to face one of the more highly touted teams in Class A in the second round of the state football playoffs.
The No. 9 ranked Bulldogs, fresh off a 54-20 trouncing of Johnson County in the first round last week, are as tough as any team Jefferson has seen this season, including the likes of No. 5 Commerce and No. 8 Landmark Christian, the two other Top Ten teams the Dragons have played.
But what makes this game different from those earlier meetings is that the Dragons (7-4) are coming off their two most memorable wins of the season, home victories over Athens Academy to end the regular season and Heard County last week in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’ve had some great wins and we’ve got a great group of seniors,” Dragon head coach Bill Navas said Monday as his team prepared for the Bulldogs. “They’ve got a phenomenal offense, a solid defense and they’re good in the kicking game. They’re as solid a football team as we’ve seen all year.”
Last week’s win over Johnson County was a typical showing for Trion coach Mark Loudermilk’s squad, as his team wasted little time putting points on the board. After returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and scoring on the next possession, the game was downhill from there on. The Bulldogs (10-1) led 34-6 at the half and were up 20-6 after the first quarter.
In the last three games Trion is averaging 54.3 points per outing, a figure that is indicative of their offensive capability. It even took Johnson County scoring two late touchdowns to narrow the final margin last week to the 34-point final. Although pleased with the effort Loudermilk noted the importance of keeping his team’s head from swelling too big.
“By this time of year there are no ifs,” he said. “We have to step forward and get focused on the next challenge.”
Meanwhile, Navas’ squad is sitting in as loose a position as any of the remaining 16 teams in the state tournament.
“We definitely have the underdog role,” he explained. “And we’re going to be the underdog from here on out.”
But the main thing Navas said was that the Dragons go out and play for the seniors, who he explained are the heart and soul of the team.
Loudermilk, now in his second season with the Bulldogs has been able to make a dramatic impact at Trion. After guiding the team to the second-round of the playoffs last year (where they lost 14-10 to Commerce) his team won the Region 6-A title this season and has only lost once all year (28-14 to Ringgold on Sept. 5).
Preparing for the Bulldog’s “double-slot” offense will be a chore for the Dragons this week. Also known as the flex-bone, Trion’s offense is similar to the scheme at Georgia Southern in the collegiate ranks, according to Navas, and typically the Bulldogs will feature a lot of misdirection out of the backfield.
Backs Daniel Blevins and Chris Chapman are arguably the Bulldogs’ two strongest runners, as they showed last week during their team’s 309 yard rushing performance. Blevins led the team with 88 yards, scoring twice on the night.
Defensively Trion has been susceptible to the run in the past, as Johnson County was able to show despite losing last week. They amassed 239 yards on the ground in their loss.

Getting the job done
Madison County whips Hart County in 26-point season-opening victory Sat.
Note: Due to early Thanksgiving holiday deadlines, results of the Raiders’ tournament championship game with Eastside weren’t available. See next week’s issue for details.
Granted, it’s the holiday season but there was no time for Raider mercy Saturday night.
With the Hart County basketball team being out nine players due to football playoff participation, the Madison County boys team took care of business against its short-handed foe in a 66-40 win in its opener.
“It’s great to get a season-opening win,” Raider head coach Steve Crouse said. “The guys really played well and did the things that they’re going to have to do for us to be successful. We did what we should have done and I was pleased to see that. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Madison County set the tone early, converting turnovers into points in a 21-point first quarter — which was capped by a Matt Seawright buzzer beater — and cruised from there as the team led by as much as 28 in the final period.
“Twenty-one points in the first quarter — that’s big numbers for us,” Crouse said.
There were other impressive numbers as well, like how the team shot 40 percent on the night from beyond the arc (6-for-15) and 48 percent from the floor (26-54). Meanwhile, Hart County hit only 34 percent of their shots.
That helped the Raiders hold a 31-18 edge at the half and a 43-29 lead after three quarters.
“That’s good anytime you get that differential,” Crouse said of the shooting percentages.
Madison County, which struggled from the free throw line last year, hit 8-of-12 of its attempts from the charity stripe (66 percent) which Crouse said was about what he was looking for out of the opening game.
“We wanted to shoot 70 percent starting in our first game but we’ll take that,” he said.
While the numbers show that the team was solid offensively, what was more impressive was how it did it.
Three Raider players registered in double figures with Russ Drake scoring 14 and Tobias Gantt and Josh Booker adding 10. Three others tallied seven or more.
“That was a big plus for us,” Crouse said of the balanced attack. “And hopefully if someone is hot, we can keep getting the ball to them.”
Crouse was also impressed with the team’s 19 assists, adding that he thought his team moved the ball around well.
“That’s what we need when someone’s double teamed,” he said. “We need to find the open guy.”
Under the glass the Raiders out-rebounded Hart County 32-24 despite giving up 11 offensive boards to the Bulldogs. However, the team did commit 14 turnovers which Crouse said the team can’t afford to do each night.
“We shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
Still, Madison County played well enough to hold a comfortable lead late and was able to get everyone who dressed out into the game, including some JV players which were added to the roster for the night.
“The JV players got in the game and that’s only going to help them for their first game.”
Overall, Crouse said his team picked up an impressive win over a team he thought would be solid no matter who it put on the floor.
“They (Hart County) always have a great basketball team and they were going to come out and battle us for 32 minutes,” he said.
Madison County’s win put them in the tournament championship game against Eastside Tuesday night. The team will return to the court this coming Tuesday against Newton County at 8:30 p.m.

Lady Panthers full of talent, experience
I t’s apparent in the way they practice. They exude it the minute they step on the court. And, if things go as anticipated for the Jackson County girls this season, it’s an area of the game that will be a dynamic element of their play.
But then again, why shouldn’t the 2003 Lady Panthers be full of this all important attribute, especially considering the strides the team made last year.
Head coach Chad Pittman’s team is full of confidence for several reasons this season, but foremost on the list of factors is that they have four starters returning to the court and five seniors among the roster’s 14 players.
“We have high expectations and goals set,” Pittman admits. “And with five seniors we would like to go out with a bang, do something that hasn’t been done (here before).”
Perhaps the only question going into the year for the Lady Panthers is who’s going to run this show?
The graduation of last year’s point guard Ashley Rainwater has left the only hole in what is otherwise a talented, experienced and, yes, confident, starting lineup.
But the absence of Rainwater this year is not to be overlooked, according to Pittman, he says because everything the team accomplished a season ago was orchestrated by the savvy ball-handling point guard.
Besides being a vocal leader in the huddle, Pittman noted that having Rainwater on the floor was like having another coach on the team. It’s something that, along with her ball-handling ability and team-leading three-point shooting, will need to be made up for this season.
But Pittman and many associated with the Lady Panthers feel, once again, confident, that they have the perfect player to take over for Rainwater this season.
Sophomore guard Jaimeca Cooper has made tremendous strides this offseason, according to her coach, and appears to be ready to take over the responsibilities that come with being a point guard.
“(She) worked hard on fundamentals this summer and continues to learn the game,” Pittman said of Cooper. “And she’s one of the quickest players in the region.”
Returning leading scorers Nikki Sosebee and Tosha Ransom should make the Lady Panthers as formidable as any team around in the paint this season. The tandem, led by the versatile Sosebee’s team-high 14 points per game and seven rebounds, averages 26 points and 13 boards a contest last year.
Complimenting those two is the tenacious Krista Bess, who Pittman calls his team’s best defender. Her ability to do the little things during the game like scraping for loose balls and hitting the glass will be counted on once again this season.
Perhaps the best shooter on this year’s squad could well be sophomore guard Tynishia Berry who returns as a starter at the off-guard position. Last season as a freshman, Berry used her quickness and long-range shooting ability to help spur runs at crucial moments.
By far, the experience gained by last year’s trip to the state tournament (losing to Creekside in the first round) and 18-11 season will likely be a key to any success this season. In order to reach their potential though, Pittman noted that the squad will need to be more consistent as a whole. Perhaps that’s where the experience factor comes in. One need look no further than a pair of regular season games last year to understand what Pittman is talking about.
While arguably the Lady Panthers best performance in 2002 came at home against the Lady Bulldoggs, the following game that season at Newton was the worst game of the season for Jackson County.
Despite the awesome showing against Winder-Barrow, Pittman stated he was frustrated the next game by his team’s lack of concentration.
“It showed our inconsistency and we got beat by 40,” he explained. “It was the worst game I’ve sat through.”
In all though, Pittman expects that type of emotional roller coaster to be less of an issue this season.
“I hope we have learned from our inconsistencies,” said Pittman. “(Last season) was a good season and (we) accomplished several goals but hopefully everyone has come back more hungry.”
Certainly the play of Sosebee and Ransom in the post will lay the groundwork for any success in 2003 as well though. But the experience gained last season by the sophomore guards should lead to good, smart play at those positions as well, according to Pittman.
One of the few question marks regarding this season’s team will likely be depth, according to Pittman. But a solid class of incoming players may be able to provide some answers in this department.
“We must have some younger players contribute, especially as we approach the (postseason) tournaments.”

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