REGION CHAMPIONS

The Banks County Leopards pose with the Region 8-AA first-place trophy after defeating Social Circle, 65-44, Monday night (Feb. 10) at Rabun County. The Leopards will be at home for the first two rounds of the Class AA state tournament. 

For the third time in four seasons, the Banks County boys' basketball team finished as kings of the region. 

The Leopards (23-4) defeated Social Circle Monday night (Feb. 10), 65-44, to once again claim the Region 8-AA championship. Banks County will enter the Class AA state tournament as a No. 1 seed, and will be at home for the first two rounds of the playoffs. 

The Leopards play Washington out of Region 6-AA in the first round of the playoffs. Time and date are still to be determined. 

"I think, No. 1, a home game and a big crowd is the start of the recipe," head coach Mike Cleveland said in advancing past Washington. "I think we've got to play our style. Our style is a little bit different. 

"I think we'll play through the post with Carl (Cleveland) and see if they can handle that. Guys around (Carl) have done a good job the last couple of weeks of moving and making shots. And when we do that, we're pretty doggone good. I think tonight's game plan will be exactly what we use in the state tournament, keep the ball in front of us defensively, rebound together and play through Carl and make good decisions. That usually works for us. We're going to get to work. I've done a little scouting already, watched some film, break down Washington, and we're going to give it a go." 

Against Social Circle, Carl Cleveland led the scoring with 24 points including 11 points in the first quarter. He also secured his 1,000th-career rebound at the 2:53 mark of the third quarter to go along with his eclipsing the 2,000-point mark back in December. 

"I'm proud of Carl for that 1,000th rebound, probably as proud of that as I am the 2,000 points," the coach said. "It's hard to get 1,000 rebounds. That says a lot about just getting in there and fighting. Proud of him. You've got to be a good defender and have the heart to rebound. I think that's one of the biggest characteristics of rebounding."

Garrett Presley finished the game with 11 points, which included a 3-pointer late in the second quarter to give the Leopards double-digit separation heading into the locker room. 

Gavin Brown ended the game with eight points. Clay Gosnell also ended the game with eight points. 

The Leopards opened the game with a 9-0 run. By the time the first quarter ended, the lead was 15-4. They never looked back in the wire-to-wire win. 

"Proud of the way we came out and played today," coach Cleveland said. "Social (Circle) has a good team, and I thought we dominated from the get-go. Played inside-out and I thought it worked beautifully. 

"Defensively, we were good. Really proud of my guys tonight. Another region championship. It never gets old. This is what you play for. I'm proud of this program and where it's at."

Coach Cleveland, though, did tell his team there's a "bigger trophy we want," as he doesn't want his group to settle for just the region championship. 

"We are not going to be satisfied right here," he said. "Win five (games) right here and we're state champions. We've won five a bunch of times in the past ... We want to make a run this year. That was another one of our goals. So, we've accomplished a lot of goals to this point, and we've got one more that we want to make a stab at. Really proud of our kids, and the community was great, again, tonight. Proud of how everybody played ... Tonight's about this region championship. Proud of our kids and our community."

The Leopards built the lead by halftime to 32-19 as Presley drained seven points in the second quarter. 

In the third quarter, the Leopards scored 19 points and held a 19-point lead entering the final frame. 

With several bench players getting playing time in the fourth quarter, the Leopards were able to score 14 points and clinch the region championship with a 21-point win. 

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