Area Sports...

DECEMBER 17, 2003

2004 Football Schedule To Feature Clash With Trion, Saturday Game
There will be only two new foes on Commerce’s 2004 schedule, but they might be the two games that raise the most eyebrows — one because of the caliber of opponent the Tigers will play and the other because it won’t be played on a Friday.
Commerce will open at home with Northwest Georgia power Trion Aug. 20 in the first regular season meeting between the two schools.
The other new foe in 2004 is first-year school North Oconee which the Tigers will play Oct. 2 which is a Saturday.
Athletic director and head football coach Steve Savage said the meeting with Trion wasn’t originally on the drawing board.
“It wasn’t exactly how we planned it,” he said. “The Trion game was sort of a last-minute thing. We both needed a season-opener.”
Trion made postseason waves this year, advancing to the semifinals this year and nearly knocking off top-ranked Lincoln County. The Bulldogs and Tigers have met twice before in the postseason.
The day of the game won’t make a difference to Savage.
“That’s kind of how they want to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me.”
In addition to Trion and North Oconee, Commerce’s non-region slate will include standard foes Franklin County, Morgan County, Banks County and Lincoln County.
“That’s a pretty good non-region,” Savage said.
The Tigers have played Franklin County every year since 1996 and have met both Morgan County and Lincoln County in the regular season since 2000. Commerce has played Banks County the last two seasons.
A minor change in the schedule will come in the 8-A slate which will be only four games long next fall instead of five games due to Athens Christian opting to play non-region football.
Still, the core of the region remains this year, even after this past fall’s reclassification.
“You’ve still got Social Circle, Jefferson and Athens Academy who will all be good next year,” Savage said. “Our region will be up for grabs.”
Another change will be the order of the games.
Commerce has started its region the schedule the past two years with Athens Academy and ended with Social Circle. The region slate will be reversed this year with the Tigers opening with the Red Skins and ending with the Spartans.
With Commerce and Athens Academy winning the last two region titles, a season finale between the two schools next year should have huge region implications.
“It’s always good game, regardless of when you play them,” Savage said.
No times for any of the 2004 games have been set yet because the schools still have to sign contracts.

Swept Away
Leopards down Commerce for fourth time in a row
The Leopards have only two games remaining on their plate before the holiday break.
Friday night, Banks will host Towns County in a rematch of the Leopards’ 54-41 loss to the same team to open the season.
“Towns County has got a good team,” head coach Mike Ruth said. “But I feel like if we come ready to play, we can beat them.”
Banks had trouble with the Indians’ big guys the first time around. But the Leopards also didn’t shoot the ball well in their first time out.
Since then, Banks has worked on the defensive game and has seen some increase in scoring ability.
“I think our kids will step up to the challenge,” Ruth said.
Saturday, the Leopards head out on the road to face what was, as of Tuesday, a winless Jackson County squad. But the AAAA Panthers are no pushover.
Most of Jackson County’s losses were close defeats at the hands of other AAAA basketball schools. To top it off, the Panthers have a rather large team, with size inside and on the wing.
“They’ll have an advantage over us,” Ruth said. “We’re going in there on their floor. And they’ll be pretty hungry.”
Ruth said the Panthers’ size will present a problem for his team, though they’ll plan to run a transition game as much as possible.
“We’ll try to outrun them down the floor,” he said.
After the two games this weekend, Banks will shed itself of the top loaded December slate. They close out 2003 in the Battle of the States Holiday Tournament in Towns County next Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
After the holidays, Banks gets one more against Commerce before heading in the subregion schedule with Dawson County.
The Leopards were able to pull out their fourth straight win over a Commerce team that was competing in only its second game Saturday night. Banks won the contest 49-43.
“Any time you play Commece, it don’t matter if you’re shooting marbles, you want to beat them,” Ruth said.
Banks again capitalized on a solid defensive effort as it held a Commerce team that scored over 50 points against Buford the night before to only 43 in Homer.
Ruth said he was happy for his team to get the win, especially against a line-up that touts such players as Tyson Randolph, Nick Slayton and Casha Daniels.
“Our defense kept us in there and gave us a chance to win the ballgame,” Ruth said.
Commerce kept the game interesting late. After going into the fourth quarter tied at 32, Banks was able to get out to a six-point lead with less than one minute to play after a Kyle Roberts dunk that riled the crowd.
But Daniels took the ball inside on the Tigers’ next possession, scoring and drawing a foul on the play. He sank his free throw to cut the lead to only three with a half-minute to play.
The Leopards then called on Jacob Williams. The senior hit three of four free throws late in the contest to seal the victory.
Matt Dale led the team in scoring against the Tigers with 13 points, including three long balls. Roberts was also in double digits with 10.
The Leopards fell 58-54 to Providence on the road Friday night it what Ruth labeled as a “good defensive game.”
Ruth said the team had trouble offensively hitting its shots, despite its ability to keep the Stars at bay.
Down by two with just seconds to play, Banks tried to get the ball into the hands of best free throw shooter — Williams — to try and draw a foul.
But when Williams went inside, he was called for a charge instead of getting a blocking foul that would have put him on the line with a chance to tie the game. Providence got the ball back and went on to win by four.
“We thought we got fouled but the call went the other way,” Ruth said.
Dale led the team in scoring with 14 points. He also hit three long balls in the game.
Seth McCoy was also in double digits. He put up 13 points. Reggie Smith added 11 for the team.

Dragons at Star’s Mill this weekend
It’s been a practice of the Jefferson wrestling team to take on the best squads in the state with regularity each season, regardless of classification or rank. Such will be the case once again this weekend when the Dragons travel to Starr’s Mill for a tournament full of larger schools.
With No. 1 Parkview and No. 3 Starr’s Mill, both from Class AAAAA, Jefferson will certainly have their hands full. But, if their early season success so far is an indicator, the Dragons will have a chance to make a strong statement this weekend.
Last weekend the Dragons won the John Smith Invitational by placing a school record for the tournament 11 grapplers in the finals.
Five Dragons won their weight class including: Caleb Beckwith (103), J.J. Brueshaber (145), Jason Fields (152), Hunter Garner (160), and Daniel Love (171).
Six Dragons took second in their divisions including Adam Baird, Enrique Zavaleta, Jose Zavaleta, Will Roper, Jake Gurley and Mark Baskett. Britt Cantrell took fourth and Mark Newton and Seth Love also contributed to the title with wins.
“They’re doing well,” head coach Doug Thurmond said of his team’s fantastic start so far this season. “We’ve got a long way to go though. February will be here before we know it. All this is right now is mat time for us.”
Rounding out the top three at the Smith tournament was Lithia Springs in second and Dawson County in third.
Although Jefferson is nursing a few injuries, by and large Thurmond expects his team to be ready this weekend he said. And after that he hopes to have his team heal up a bit over the holidays.
Of the 24 teams competing this weekend, only Jefferson and one other school will not be from the two largest classifications in the state. But that won’t bother the Dragons any. Last year, in a similar situation at the same event, Jefferson came away with a the tournament title.

Give ‘em five
MCHS boys claim fifth win before Christmas, off to best start since ‘96-’97
You’ll have to dig seven years back into the record book to find a Raider start this hot.
The last time the boys’ basketball program held a 5-3 record, this years’ seniors were in the fifth grade, assistant coach Michael Youngblood was sitting courtside as a Madison County player and the Olympics had just rolled through Atlanta.
That was 1996, of course.
This years’ Madison County squad equaled that mark over the weekend picking up wins four and five by topping Rockdale County (52-47) and Franklin County (47-41).
To put that accomplishment in perspective, you only have to look at recent Raider history. The program won only won five games in the 2000-2001 and the 2001-2002 seasons and seven last year.
“They’re feeling pretty good right now,” head coach Steve Crouse said of his team.
More important than being a historical footnote, Crouse pointed to several momentum builders that came with the pair of victories.
The team was able to rebound from a disappointing performance against Loganville with two big wins, beat a region foe Rockdale County in overtime and also recouped a loss last weekend with its triumph over Franklin County.
If there’s been a formula so far to the Raiders’ pre-holiday success, it’s been this:
“When we’ve got the ball, they can’t score,” Crouse said.
Good things are happening when the team slows the slows the tempo down and the math isn’t hard to figure out. The team is 5-0 when the opposition scores less than 50 points, 0-3 when it scores over that Crouse points out.
“Not that we can’t put up a lot of points, but that’s the status of our games right now,” Crouse said.
Good things are also happening when senior post player Russ Drake gets the ball.
Drake has led the team in the scoring department over the past three games with 17,16 and 15 points. He’s close to perfect at the charity stripe as well, hitting 7-of-8 free throws in overtime against Rockdale County and 6-of-7 against Franklin.
On top of that, he’s enjoyed his recent success despite battling knee trouble.
“And he’d be the first to tell you that anyone else can step up and do that,” Crouse said. “We’re really working on not letting one person key for us. We’re really talking about teamwork.”
With the team rejuevented with a two-game win streak, there’s now opportunity for as many as eight wins before starting into subregion play starts. The Raiders have a Friday contest against Oglethorpe County and a Dec. 29-30 holiday tournament in Commerce where the team will play two games.
Crouse points out that Oglethorpe County will feature several athletes, helping his group somewhat of a preview of what the team will see against Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central.
He added that hopes that Oglethorpe can develop into another local rivalry, similar to the one Madison County has with Franklin County.
“I’d like to create a sense of a rivalry,” he said. “I think that kind of atmosphere only helps a game.”
Crouse is happy that his group will also some down time before playing the Patriots after playing six times in 12 days.
The team didn’t have a Tuesday night game.
“I’m happy that we don’t have a game until this weekend,” he said Monday. “That gives us time to recooperate and get ready for the tournament and Oglethorpe County.”
In one of its most complete performances of the season, Madison County latched on to a 24-21 advantage in the second quarter with a three-pointer from Josh Booker and never looked back, leading for the final 18:32 of the contest in a 47-41 win.
Drake led the Raiders in the scorebooks for the third consecutive night with 15 points while Bryan Bird had 14.
Both Drake and Bird inflicted their damage at different parts of the game.
Bird made his prescense felt early, accounting for 13 of the Raiders 26 first half points.
The senior guard scored six of Madison County’s first 10 points, helping the Raiders to a 12-8 lead after a quarter.
Bird later capped gave Madison County a 26-21 lead at the half, driving in the paint and scoring in the closing moments before intermission as the Raiders milked over a minute off the clock in their last possession.
“Bird made a great play,” Crouse said. “We executed and found them and he made the layup.”
Crouse said the end of the first half gave them a lift as the Lions weren’t able to get a shot off on the other end before halftime.
“I think that was really frusturating for them,” Crouse said. “Not that they’re a running team but, the tempo of the game was in our favor.”
Drake paid dividends for Madison County late with 10 of his 15 points over the final two quarters with most of that coming via the free throw line in the clutch.
Drake gave Madison County a 41-31 lead early in the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws and later iced the win late, hitting four-of-four attempts from the line in the final 17 seconds of the game.
Defensivley, the team had success with a switch in scheme, running more man-to-man than it had in the previous games
“We were able to get out on their shooters and pressure their guards more and it helped us rebound better,” Crouse said. “... We didn’t plan to play that much man-to-man but it was working for us.”
Bolstered by his performance at the free throw line in overtime, Drake scored 16 points Friday night to led the Raiders past Rockdale County.
The low scoring affairm, which was knotted at 14 at the half, went into over time when the Bulldogs outscored the Raiders 23-15 in the fourth quarter.
Madison County returned the favor, however, outscoring Rockdale 11-6 in the extra period to pick up the region win with .
Crouse praised the students for livening up the atmosphere in the Raiders’ gym this season and really embraced the team. The coach pointed that out that his team wore ties to class before Friday’s game and some students showed up this weekend at the gym wearing ties as well.
“We’ve had great student support at our games,” he said. “The kids are filling the seats and really cheering for our guys and girls.”

Rough start has Panthers still winless this season
It hasn’t been the way first-year head coach Richard Crumley envisioned the start of his career at Jackson County, but all things considered he knew turning around a struggling Panther basketball program would not happen overnight. So, when his team opened up the 2003-04 season on Nov. 22, Crumley was prepared to deal with some growing pains this year.
After all, sometimes things get worse before they can get better.
The casual observer might only notice the record the squad has so far, but what may not be realized is just how close the team has come to erasing the zero in their win column.
Friday Jackson County will begin the first of three home games in a row when they battle No. 7 Apalachee, and according to Crumley ball handling will be important.
“The key to playing with Apalachee is going to be handling their pressure,” he said. “We can’t give them extra chances to score off of turnovers. Taking care of the basketball Friday night is going to be important.”
Saturday, Banks County comes calling to The Pit. Jackson County will then be off until Jan. 2 when they host Johnson.

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