The Winder-Barrow boys’ basketball team emerged from the grind of a rigorous Region 8-AAAAAA schedule as the fourth-place team in the region, and the Bulldoggs have a higher degree of confidence than a typical fourth seed might as they enter the state playoffs.
Winder-Barrow coach Travis McDaniel isn’t expecting his team to back down from the challenge at all when the Bulldoggs visit fourth-ranked Douglas County in the first round of the GHSA Class 6A playoffs (6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24).
“I think the guys know we’ve been battle-tested in one of the deepest, toughest regions in the state and to make the playoffs coming out of that region is saying something,” said McDaniel, whose team bounced Dacula 56-52 in the first round of the region tournament last week to clinch a playoff bid before losing 65-50 to Shiloh in the semifinals and 83-81 to Buford in a triple-overtime thriller in the consolation game on Saturday, Feb. 20.
“There’s not much out there we’ll see going forward that we haven’t already seen from our region, so I think it’ll definitely help us,” McDaniel said. “That one against Buford on Saturday stung and hurt. But knowing there was still going to be a tomorrow and that not being the end of the season, our guys were able to turn the page quickly. There were tons of game situations and things we could take from that loss that should help us going into this game.”
McDaniel believes, though, that Winder-Barrow (15-10) may face the most physical team it has played all year in Douglas County (22-5), the Region 5 champion. The Tigers have seven players on their roster listed at 6-foot-4 and taller and have commanded the boards on the offensive and defensive ends in most of their games.
“They rebound really well and score a ton of points of second-chance opportunities,” said McDaniel, who hopes the Bulldoggs’ big-man seniors Isaiah Nelson-Ododa (6-foot-10) and Wyatt Fricks (6-foot-9) will help neutralize Douglas County’s dominance on the glass.
“Talking to some other coaches, the consensus is they play a little bit of ‘bully ball’ and that can intimidate some teams, which helped them run through their region,” McDaniel said. “But there’s not much our guys are scared of. They’re ready for the challenge.”
How well Nelson-Ododa and Fricks play could wind up being an X-factor. Fricks has been the Bulldoggs’ leading scorer and rebounder for much of the season, earning him the “Mr. Consistent” moniker from McDaniel, and posted 30 points and 16 boards in Saturday’s loss at Buford. Junior guard Tim Loud has had a solid season in his first year as a full-time starter, and the Bulldoggs are hoping for a standout performance from him on Wednesday as well.
“Looking at it on paper, this looks like a pretty good matchup,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to be a competitive game, and I’m anticipating a four-quarter battle. It could come down to a possession or two in the final minutes. I believe in this team, and I think we have the right recipe to potentially make it tough on them, to go over there and get it done and advance.”
With an upset win, the Bulldoggs would advance to the Sweet Sixteen and travel to either Centennial or South Cobb, most likely on Saturday, Feb. 27.