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From underdog to contender

By Doug Gorman

MACON?Hollywood loves the underdog.

After all, it turned a broken down club fighter from Philadelphia into heavyweight champion of the world in the popular Rocky flicks.

It also showed how a bunch of small-town heroes right off the farm could compete against bigger and more talented city slickers to win the Indiana state high school basketball crown in the film Hoosiers.

If movie producers want to update the basketball theme in their next feel-good movie, they ought to bring the story of the Mt. Zion Lady Bulldogs to the big screen.

After all, what the Lady Bulldogs have managed to do this year seems right out of the movies.

Let's face it, nobody gave the Lady Bulldogs much of a chance in the state tournament.

Heck, some never thought they would get out of the Region 2-AAAAA tournament. Now, thanks to their 52-42 victory at the Macon Coliseum Saturday night against Clayton County rival Riverdale, the Lady Bulldogs are on the way to the Class AAAAA Final Four.

The Lady Bulldogs' state tournament odyssey began with a 3-point win against Colquitt County.

Still, few believed the Lady Bulldogs were for real.

Websites made fun of them, and few outside the Mt. Zion family thought they belonged on high school basketball's biggest stage.

Then this group of upstarts sent shock waves through the Macon Coliseum by waving bye-bye to state-ranked Beach.

That set up a dramatic showdown against county foe Riverdale, the same team that went to the Final Four a year ago.

Call me a skeptic, but I didn't give Mt. Zion much of a chance to beat Riverdale. Teams with Final Four experience usually have the advantage, but Saturday night as I sat on press row inside the Macon Coliseum, the Lady Bulldogs converted me over to their side.

After three quarters of hard fought basketball, including ties at the end of the first and third stanzas, Mt. Zion willed its way to the victory with a dominating fourth quarter.

Whitney Linton, who finished the final quarter with seven points, several key rebounds and a nasty blocked shot, was just one of the players who stepped up in what has to be Mt. Zion's biggest basketball win in school history.

After the game, Linton admitted beating Riverdale made it even more special.

"We know them and have played against them before, so beating them was great," she said.

Perhaps the biggest story line behind the Lady Bulldogs' success is what happened in the middle of the season as head coach Edwin Turnipseed left for a job at the University of Georgia.

Dock Gammage stepped in as head coach and the team has more than continued its winning ways.

As for Turnipseed, he is probably the team's biggest fan. He has kept the road hot from Athens to the Lady Bulldogs' games, making sure to stay out of the way and view things from the stands.

"Edwin got things started, I'm just continuing what he did," said Gammage. "He is still part of this team."

Senior Milan Johnson will no doubt run into her old coach next year when she joins the women's basketball team at Georgia.

For right now, she just wants to concentrate on her remaining time as a high school player.

"Nobody gave us a chance," she said. "We have silenced a lot of people."

I don't know if Mt. Zion can win two more games, but I sure hope so. After all, what a great way to cap an already unbelievable story.

Doug Gorman is the sports editor of the Daily Herald. E-mail him at dgorman@henryherald.com.