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After five years, Lady Bulldogs return to state basketball tourney

By Zack Huffman

zhuffman@news-daily.com

Dock Gammage towered over senior point guard Alexis Griffin on the court as he attempted to bat away her pass. With Mt. Zion preparing to face Harlem's quintet of six-foot starters tonight in the first round of the state tournament, Gammage is hoping if his Lady Bulldogs can effectively move the ball past his height they just may have a chance against the number-two team from 3-AAAA.

While many coaches are hoping to make history this post season, Gammage is hoping to recreate it.

When Mt. Zion travels two and a half hours to face Harlem high School, the game will mark the return of the Lady Bulldogs to the state playoffs under Gammage's tutelage since their last trip five years ago.

Gammage took the helm of Mt. Zion's girls basketball team in December of 2003. the season was already underway when Mt. Zion's former girls basketball coach left the school to take a position at the University of Georgia.

The Lady Bulldogs were left without a coach, so Gammage, who was then coaching the ninth grade boys team, took on the responsibility.

From there the Lady Bulldogs went on an exciting that culminated with an appearance in the final four of the state tournament.

Gammage is hoping he can recapture some of the magic of his first girls team.

This season has been less than smooth for the Lady Bulldogs who completed the region tournament with a third seed an even .500 record of 13-13, which is a far cry from their first-round opponent, who boasts an impressive 23-3 record.

"I'm hoping that they look at our record and they don't prepare at all for us," quipped Gammage. "I don't imagine that anybody would do that, but hopefully they do."

With an average height of 5'7" victory tonight will truly be a grand accomplishment for Mt. Zion as they face a team with five starters at the six-foot mark.

"They're solid at pretty much every position. They're very fundamentally sound," he said. "On paper it's sort of like David and Goliath. We've just got to have the confidence of David."

Although 13-13 may not appear to be the record of a championship team, it does match the .500 record Mt. Zion's 2003-2004 squad had accrued just before making their upset-laden run into the state semi-finals.

According to Gammage the key difference between his current female squad and his first is age and experience.

The team from 2003-2004 enjoyed the company of many seniors who had played together for four years while this season's team has just two seniors and a variety of underclassmen, including the team's sole six-foot player, freshman Precious Person.

In the end, Gammage believes effort and intensity will be the game-changing factor tonight.

"We have to hustle. I feel if we give everything we've got we can win," he said. "If my team plays to best of their ability, we'll win."

While making it to state after a five-year absence is big accomplishment for the Mt. Zion, Gammage is not quite ready for his Lady Bulldogs to rest on their laurels.

"I told them, I'm happy no matter what happens from here on out. We've gotten to our goal, but that doesn't mean we want to lose now," he said. "At the end of the day, we want to play as hard as we can. If we lose, we go home and we're still proud of what we accomplished. If we win we get to play another day."

Mt. Zion travels to Harlem High School today for the first round of the state playoffs.

At the beginning of the season we talked about the similarities between this team and that one. It was almost a joke.

You can get beat pretty bad by a goliath if you're not careful.

They're a tough team, they pound the ball inside, but they can shoot from the outside.