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FEBRUARY 11, 2004

Tigers Go Into Region Tourney On Winning Note
Whether or not Commerce’s season will continue all depends on how it fared today (Wednesday) in the first round of the region tournament, but the Tigers did give themselves a shot in the arm going into the postseason.
Commerce — which was scheduled to play today (Wednesday) at 4 p.m. against region tournament host Towns County (results weren’t available) — locked up a two seed in the 8-A tournament after winning twice in the final week of the regular season with triumphs over Rabun Gap (72-57) Tuesday and Social Circle (64-52) Friday.
“We’re coming off two pretty good games, winning by double figures. I thought that we played pretty well,” Tiger head coach Rex Gregg said Monday before his team entered the region tournament.
If Commerce continued its winning ways today, it would qualify for the state tournament and move on to the quarter finals of the region tournament Friday night against the winner of Jefferson and Tallulah Falls/Prince Avenue.
As for the close of the regular season, good things came in three’s for Commerce Friday night in the form of Caleb Jordan, Casha Daniels and Tyson Randolph, despite the trio being much less than 100 percent for the contest.
The three combined for 54


Leopards seeded first in region tournament
The Banks County Leopards head to the 8- AA region tournament Wednesday where a win will take them to state.
The varsity basketball team ended their regular season, 15-9, which ranks them first in the sub-region and sets them to face either Providence or Greater Atlanta Christian Wednesday night at Dawson County. The game will begin at 8:30 p.m.
“We’ve been very pleased with our season,” said Banks County coach Mike Ruth. “I tell the kids to take it one game at a time, and as long as we improve every game, we are satisfied.”
While Ruth may be satisfied with improvement, he says the basketball players want it all.
“They are playing with a lot of heart,” he said. “Our kids are never satisfied, they want to play at the state tournament.”
The Leopards finished their regular season Friday with an upset against Appalachee.
APALACHEE 53, BANKS 51
It was a game that didn’t matter. Although it ended a seven-game winning streak for Banks County, it didn’t matter who won or lost because both teams were seeded first heading into the region tournament. Appalachee is first in the south and Banks is first in the north.
It was a close game with well-matched talent. The score stayed close, baskets on both ends of the court kept the score within five for the entire game. Appalachee was leading at the end of each eight-minute quarter, but the minutes before the buzzer were full of action.
Both sides of the stands were full. Appalachee was celebrating senior night and the crowd was encouraging the team. They taunted each player that found himself at the charity stripe, ‘choke’ and ‘airball’ screamed throughout the gym.
As if a crowd of Appalachee fans wasn’t bad enough, Kyle Roberts was forced to meet another baller of equal stature, Tyler Whatley, both players are 6’ 8” and they battled it out on the court.
Reggie Smith led the offense with 14 points.
Kyle Roberts earned 10 and Matt Dale added nine, including one three-pointer.
Seth McCoy put up eight. Tra Smith added six and Alex Cruce put up four.
BANKS 69, LUMPKIN 59
Tuesday’s win against Lumpkin County, 69-59, assured the top seed for Banks County in the region tourney.
Because Dawson County fell to Union and Banks County defeated Union County twice in the regular season the win against Lumpkin County placed Banks at the top heading into the region tournament.
The Leopards led the first quarter, outscoring Lumpkin 15-12. Lumpkin County closed the gap in the second and took the lead, 34-32.
“Lumpkin County played hard,” said Ruth. “We came back in the third and fourth quarters, put some points on the board and the momentum carried us through.”
Banks County outscored Lumpkin in the third and took the lead, 47-43. The team used the fourth quarter to put some serious numbers on the board, 22, and were guaranteed the win when Lumpkin only answered with 16, ending the game 69-59.
Dale led the team with 21 points, three came from beyond the arc.
Jacob Williams also scored double digits earning 13 for the team, including one from beyond the arc. Roberts added 11. R. Smith added eight. McCoy put up seven. T. Smith earned five. Cruce and Tony Bedford each added two.


Dragons win third-straight state duals title
Late comeback lifts Jefferson past Bremen in finals of Class A duals
For the Jefferson wrestling program, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Last Saturday the No.1 Dragons successfully defended their Class A state duals crown by holding off No. 2 Bremen in one of the more highly anticipated match-ups of the state dual meet championships in Macon.
Trailing 22-19 heading into the final four matches against the Blue Devils, the Dragons dug deep and found their resolve. Consecutive pins by three Jefferson wrestlers enabled the defending champs to clinch what was an extremely close contest during which each team won the same number of matches.
“To me, Bremen should have been No. 1,” Jefferson head coach Doug Thurmond said. “They sort of came in with high hopes, but I think our guys raised up to the occasion and really stepped things up when we needed them to.”
The title-clincher came when Jefferson’s Enrique Zavaleta secured a first period pin over Bremen’s Buck Bonner in the 119-pound division.
Because of the closeness of the affair — with both teams winning seven matches apiece — the difference in the end came down to pin points. Jefferson, aided by five pin-fall victories, eventually took the crown 37-28.
The win wrapped up an extremely impressive duals season for the Dragons, who remained the only team to win the Class A title since the duals competition was started in 2002.
The Dragons went 20-2 in duals this season, losing only to the top two teams from the state’s largest classification, No. 1 Parkview and No. 2 Centennial.
According to Thurmond, the win over the Blue Devils was as strong a victory as any the Dragons have had in recent memory. Bremen has not only been ranked No. 2 all season long, but they returned some nine seniors and a host of traditional state championship finalists from last season. With that in mind, Thurmond stated that he expects to see last Saturday’s finals opponent once again in the traditional state tournament Feb. 20-21 at Jefferson.
“Its halfway done, it’s not over yet,” the Dragon skipper said.
The Dragons have won three consecutive Class A traditional state crowns, and their quest for a fourth will begin this weekend at the area tournament at Social Circle. But in order to do that, Thurmond noted that his squad will need to remain focused this weekend.
Regarding his team’s chances at defending their traditional state crown once again, the Dragon coach was candid.
“It will probably come down to the finals,” he said. The Dragons lost a tremendous amount of talent from last season’s squad with some five seniors lost to graduation alone. In all, 10 grapplers reached state finals, with five winning individual state crowns a season ago.
So just how have the Dragons been able to replace some of those talented leaders? According to Thurmond, younger wrestlers have simply risen to the occasion.
After all, winning is a way of life for Jefferson.
“All I know is our expectation level for them is high and we push them hard, but if you don’t have good kids that can be a problem. But, we feel like we have an excellent group of kids.”


Lady Panthers take North’s second seed
Win Thurs. will earn state berth
For the Jackson County girls basketball team, games don’t get much bigger than the one they will play Thursday night.
The Lady Panthers (17-8) will take on Salem in the Region 8-AAAA Tournament at Newton High School with the right to secure a berth in the Class AAAA state tournament on the line.
Although experience, poise and talent appear to be on the side of the No. 3 seeded Lady Panthers, head coach Chad Pittman is stressing focus this week at practice with the hope that his squad will live up to their expectations of returning to the state tournament for the third time in four years.
Led by seniors Nikki Sosebee and Tosha Ransom, the Lady Panthers possess one of the more deadly inside-outside combinations in the state. And, should Jackson County advance this postseason it will largely be because of the play of those two senior leaders.
Last Friday night’s final regular season game of the year was a typical display of what Jackson County hopes will happen this postseason.
Playing at Clarke Central, the Lady Panthers let a 12-point fourth quarter lead evaporate, before rallying in overtime to earn a 59-57 win.
Sosebee’s 21 points and Ransom’s 19 led the way, however it was their poise down the stretch that was most impressive. With Jackson County behind for a majority of the overtime, Sosebee and Ransom kept their team close. In all they scored seven of the Lady Panthers’ eight points in the period, with a late bucket by Sosebee proving to be the difference in the contest.
Freshman Brooke Hughes was also a key contributor on offense, something that the Lady Panthers will need down the stretch as they try to make up of the loss of third-leading scorer, CeCe Hill, who was lost for the season with a knee injury during the last meeting with Clarke Central on Jan. 20.
Friday Hughes gave her team an outside shooting threat, draining all of her 15 points from 3-point range.
The Lady Gladiators were able to claw back into the game thanks to a 20-8 fourth quarter comeback that nearly won them the game.
The contest was a far cry from the two school’s earlier meeting this season during which Jackson County led from start to finish en route to a 55-27 blowout.
Despite the victory however, Clarke Central earned the second seed from the North, with Cedar Shoals taking the top spot.


On the threshold of state
Berth to Class AAAA tourney hung in the balance Wednesday night at region tourney
Madison County’s postseason fate hung in the balance as of press time Wednesday night as the Raiders were slated to take on Newton County at 6 p.m. at Cedar Shoals in the second round of the region tournament.
A win by Madison County would propel it to the state tournament for the first time in seven years — a potential milestone which made the Raiders the talk of the town going into the game.
“We’ve got a lot of people excited about this and our players are excited,” Madison County head coach Steve Crouse said from his office Tuesday prior to the matchup, while he studied film of the Newton County team.
In addition to locking up a spot at state, a victory by Crouse’s team would also mean a region semi-finals appearance Friday at Clarke Central.
Madison County — which beat Salem 59-46 Monday night in the first round of the region tournament — had seen Newton County before, falling 82-57 in the third game of the season.
Crouse called the Rams “a great basketball team, deserving of whatever ranking it had.” Newton County, which handed 8-AAAA North sub-region champion Cedar Shoals its only two losses of the year, is the second seed out of the South sub-region.
“And they didn’t get there by accident,” Crouse said.
The Raider coach said he hoped his group was a much different team than the one that lost by 25 points to the Rams back on Dec. 2 as Madison County went into Wednesday night’s game as winners of 13 of its last 18 contests.
“We’ve won a lot of ball games since then and I think we’ve played a lot of good basketball teams,” Crouse said. “I think we are a better basketball team than we were that night.”
Crouse was excited about the prospect of his group having an opportunity to put Madison County back on the basketball map at the state level.
“That’s where everyone wants to be at the beginning of the season,” he said. “That’s where we said we wanted to be after last year and we’re on the threshold of that.”
The Raiders put themselves a win away from clinching a spot at state with its 13-point win over Salem Monday night.
Madison County led 15-11 after a quarter and 29-26 before eventually working itself away from the Seminoles in the fourth quarter.
“It was a very big win,” Crouse said.
The coach added that Salem was a worthy first-round foe.
“Salem is a good team,” he said. “They’re young and they had some personnel problems during the year but they’ll be back strong next year.”
Junior Micah Sales had one of his best offensive games of the year in the win, leading the team with 21 points.
Both Russ Drake and Josh Booker stepped up huge in the second half, accounting for 22 of the team’s 30 second half points.
Booker finished with 12, seven of those coming in the fourth quarter, and Drake finished with eight, all of those coming in the final two quarters.
Junior Tobias Gantt had a slow night offensively with five points, but put together a solid floor game with six rebounds and seven assists.
The night had a sad note, though, as Drake tore his ACL ending both his season and prep career. Drake had been in the Raiders basketball program ever since middle school.
“It’s tough whenever you lose a starter,” Crouse said. “He’s worked hard to help get us to this point and he wants to be out there with them. We’re going to miss him.”
Madison County closed its regular season three nights earlier with its second win of the year over Habersham Central
The Raiders were never really threatened as the squad rolled to a 60-50 win on senior night.
Madison County jumped on top early, taking a 19-11 lead in the first quarter with Gantt, who tallied 15, draining a three pointer from the top of the key.
Madison County increased the lead to 34-21 at intermission, then came out in control in the third, with Sales nailing a jumper with three minutes to go in the quarter, giving the home squad a 44-24 lead before a raucous home crowd.
Madison County pushed the lead to 22 before Habersham made a late charge, cutting the lead to 10 in the closing moments.
Other leading Raider scorers included Booker, 12; Seawright, nine; and Drake with seven.

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