Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
If the regular season Region 4-AAA schedule revealed anything, it was that the region consisted of an impressive group of quality teams.
The only problem? Too many teams to fit into the state playoffs.
Along the two-month ride of region play, only sixth-ranked Henry County (19-4, 13-2 Region 4-AAA) emerged as a frontrunner, but not by too much. The teams that enter today in second- to fifth-place -- Eagle's Landing, Spalding, Stockbridge and Drew -- spent the final weeks of the regular season trading blows with one another.
Those blows have created a whirlwind of scenarios based on the outcome of today's games. Tenth-ranked Eagle's Landing (19-4, 11-4) will secure second-place with a win against Spalding (15-9, 10-5). If the Golden Eagles lose, and Drew beats Stockbridge, there would be a three-way tie for second with Spalding.
The goal for teams 2-5 is to avoid the first-round game that pits the fourth-seed against the fifth-seed. That game is guaranteed to feature two teams with winning records. One's season will end short of the state playoffs.
All of which makes Henry County's No. 1 seed seem like that much more of a prize. For a regular season that featured few slip-ups, the Warhawks were rewarded with the winner of Jackson-Locust Grove, two teams that combined for seven wins this season.
Aside from a startling 76-49 loss to Sandy Creek (8-15, 6-10) on Feb. 1, the Warhawks' offensive prowess and deep bench helped them survive the loss of leading scorer Larrentis Thomas to a wrist injury on Jan. 26.
"I think we're the deepest team in the region," Henry County senior Jordan Bryant said. "Most of the other teams go six, seven, eight deep. We've got 19 people that can step up at any time."
Henry County enters the region tournament this season in much better shape than last season.
This time last year, the Warhawks limped into the Region 4-AA tournament with eight straight losses. But they proved anything can happen in the region tournament, winning three games to capture the Region 4-AA title.
A magical run won't be necessary this time.
"Our No. 1 goal was to improve each and every day," Henry County coach Vincent Rosser said. "That was what we wanted to do toward the end of the season."
While Henry County is considered the favorite, those teams packed behind them in the standings all have reasons to believe they can knock out the Warhawks.
Eagle's Landing has its overtime win against the Warhawks in the Chuck Miller Classic. Stockbridge has its 81-70 win at Henry County on Dec. 14. Drew has its two losses by single-digits to the Warhawks.
If the regular season Region 4-AAA schedule proved anything, it was that anything can happen.
"After (today) everybody's record is clean," Stockbridge coach Duane Kelley said. "We feel like we can beat anybody however we get in there. When the region tournament comes about, we don't feel there's a team that can beat us if we play like we're capable of playing.
"You've got to beat a good team to get there anyway."