The Madison County Middle School eighth grade boys’ basketball team recently captured its region title.
The team finished 9-5 overall and 7-5 in the region, taking third in the NEGIAA regular season, then catching fire in the playoffs and winning the region crown.
“I think the boys and their parents will agree that it was a frustrating season at times, but I'm extremely proud of the mental toughness and resolve the boys showed,” said MCMS head coach Jacob Whitmire. “It would have been easy for them to limp into the playoffs with a defeated attitude after losing our last two games, but instead we had some of our best practices all year and walked into the playoffs feeling like we were the best team in the region. It's awesome that they were able to prove that.”
Team members included Conner Bird, Cedric Bolton, Jonah Bray, Mason Cade, Jay Carruth, Casen Duggins, Deshaun Johnson, Keith Lay, Blake Ledford, Kyle Pruitt, Camden Smith, Josh Strickland, Logan Brown (manager), Luke Hill (manager) and Mason Smith (manager).
Carruth was the leading scorer, averaging 9.5 points per game, including 11.7 per game in the playoffs. Mason Cade was the second leading scorer, with 6.6 points per game.
“We had an extremely deep team, with multiple guys who could score for us,” said Whitmire. “Here's all the players that scored 10 points in a game at least once: Jay, Mason, Jonah Bray, Casen Duggins, Camden Smith, Kyle Pruitt, Deshaun Johnson. Our usual starters were Jay, Camden, Casen, Kyle, and Mason, but our strength was our depth.”
MCMS went 10-2 in the region last year and beat Hart County 40-16 to win the tournament. Whitmire said the team felt like it underperformed in the regular season this year.
“We lost our last two regular season games against Hart County and Rabun County,” he said. “Losing to Rabun County in the last game of the season was probably the wake up call we needed before the tournament.”
The coach said the squad’s best win of the regular season was probably an overtime win over Habersham County at home, 34-30. The Mustangs held Habersham scoreless in overtime. That win "avenged" the team’s worst loss of the season to that point, a 47-30 setback to Habersham earlier in the year.
The Mustangs entered the playoffs as the region’s three seed, with Hart County at one, Stephens at two and Habersham at four.
Madison County downed sixth-seed Franklin County in the opening game of the tournament, 41-32, holding Franklin scoreless in the fourth quarter after trailing 21-18 at the half. Carruth led the team with 15 points.
“The second half of this game was (finally) the turning point of our season, where we played like what we knew we were capable of,” said Whitmire.
The Mustangs, who split two games with Stephens County in the regular season, faced Stephens for a third time in the playoffs, winning 46-32, with Carruth scoring 13 points.
“We played one of our best games of the year,” said Whitmire.
The championship game was against Habersham, who had upset Hart County in the semifinal.
“We had lost badly and barely scraped out an overtime win in the regular season, but we controlled the game in the championship,” said Whitmire. “We were up 23-11 at half time, and we cruised to a 43-28 win. Mason Cade was the leading scorer with 12 points. We definitely played our best basketball all year in the tournament.”
The coach said he expects great things from the eighth graders in the future.
“Having this group of kids has been some of the most fun I've had, and I'm looking forward to watching them in high school,” said Whitmire.