Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
They are in the state playoffs -- barely.
Usually at this time of the season, coaches speak about peaking and being on an upward swing.
For the teams that enter this weekend as the No. 4 seed from their region, they are doing neither. By virtue of being a fourth seed, a team has lost its last two games in the region tournament.
Not exactly the kind of momentum a coach wants for their team heading into the state playoffs. Along with the fourth seed comes the reality of having to play all your playoff games on the road.
The first two rounds are hosted by the higher seeded team with the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals all at a neutral site.
While teams don't like going in on a losing streak, it certainly hasn't curved their enthusiasm for the playoffs.
"Right now, the slate is clean," North Clayton junior forward Marcus Hunt said. "It is a new season for every team that made the playoffs.
There are only 32 teams left in each class. We are happy to be among the ones that are still playing."
The Eagles (15-12) will have to travel to Richmond Hill, the Region 2-AAAA champion, Saturday for their first round Class AAAA playoff game.
Last season as a third seed from the region, North Clayton went on the road twice and won before losing by a point in the quarterfinals at Fort Valley State University.
Although his team won the region tournament this season, Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman knows the uphill battle of a fourth seed in the playoffs. He also knows that rebounding from a two-game losing streak is possible.
"One year we were a fourth seed and went down to Tift and won," Maehlman said. "At this point, it doesn't matter what seed you are."
The North Clayton girls team was a fourth seed last season, but won at Region 1-AAAA champion Westside-Macon before losing in the second round.
Lady Eagles center Miranda Cantrell said bouncing back from two losses in the region tournament is not as difficult as people would think.
"You have built-in confidence from the season that you can pull from," she said. "As long as you believe in yourself, and you believe in your team, you can do fine as a fourth seed."
Henry County coach Vincent Rosser agrees.
The Warhawks went into the Region 4-AAA tournament as the top seed, but fell to fourth. However, the team received a big confidence boost Wednesday when leading scorer and rebounder Larrentis Thomas was cleared to play. The senior missed several games with a wrist injury.
"We are coming out of a tough region," Rosser said. "We lost some games to some tough teams. I think our guys will use the losing as some motivation. Some times a loss is a good thing to give you some extra motivation."
The Warhawks are ranked No. 7 in the state. As a testiment to Rosser's statement of a tough region, at one point during the season each of the four teams that made it to state were ranked.
Henry County (20-5) will only have to make a 45-minute trek to Mary Person, the Region 2-AAA champion. The last two seasons, Henry County reached the Class AA quarterfinals.
"Logistics plays a big part in travelling, and we don't have to go that far," Rosser said. "Our kids are pretty pumped and we have had some good days of practice this week. All the kids realize that one loss and the season is done."