By Jeffery Armstrong
The North Clayton Lady Eagles basketball team has been through the wars in Region 4-AAAA and head coach Kimleon Turner believes that's why his team has qualified for the Class AAAA Sweet 16.
"Our region did well in the first round, especially on the girls side," Turner said. "The teams we've played during the season prepared us to get to the second round."
Turner does make a valid point. Three of the four region teams (Woodward Academy, Pebblebrook and NC) have made it through the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs and are favored to advance further, provided they play well this week in Columbus.
North Clayton defeated the Cross Creek Lady Razorbacks 54-42 last Saturday and now will face the Kendrick Lady Cherokees Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Columbus Civic Center.
The Lady Eagles have made big strides since their heady run to the state playoffs last year. In first-round playoff action last year, North Clayton was a plucky young squad that took defending state AAAA champ Glenn Hills to overtime before succumbing to the more experienced team.
Now, 10th-ranked North Clayton is a little more experienced and a little less plucky n they're expected to win close games in the playoffs.
"If we come to play against Kendrick, we'll be alright," Turner said. "Both teams are pressing teams so there will be a lot of fouls. Hopefully, my girls won't foul out."
Turner and the Lady Eagles looked at Kendrick on film and noticed the Lady Cherokees always have one player pressure the opponent's point guard and they play a "diamond-and-one" zone defense. Kendrick, located in Columbus, also has three primary players who like to shoot from the outside, preferably from the 3-point line.
North Clayton center Shaleece Bradberry had one of her best games in the win over Cross Creek, tallying 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. She feels she and her team will be ready to play Kendrick in Kendrick's back yard.
"When I saw them on film, it looked like they didn't have any big post players," said Bradberry, a junior. "That means I'll have to concentrate on getting rebounds, making shots and blocking out. I should be able to get some shots up against them."
The one thing Turner said he is worried about is whether his players will be in awe of the size of the Civic Center. Players are used to their high school gyms, which always have walls behind the baskets. Even though Turner said he'd speak with his team on playing a game in a big arena, Bradberry doesn't believe that will be a problem.
"I play AAU ball and so do most of the girls on the team. We've played in bigger gyms before," she said.
Note: Should Pebblebrook defeat Thomas County Central in Thursday's early game (4 p.m.) and North Clayton defeats Kendrick, the two Region 4-AAAA rivals will meet again Saturday at 4 p.m. in Columbus.