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Teams relish the opportunity to play host to state playoff games

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

Last season, Miranda Cantrell and her North Clayton teammates had the experience of playing their first round Class AAAA playoff game on the road.

Friday, the Lady Eagles will play host to a first round playoff game after finishing second in the Region 4-AAAA tournament.

Hosting a first round game is something the Lady Eagles are looking forward to the familar scenery of their gym.

"When you are playing at home, you have your fans screaming for you," Cantrell said. "It sure beats going on the road and having the opposing team fans screaming and booing you."

Of the 17 teams from the Southern Crescent in the state playoffs, eight will host a first round game. Drew was granted permission by the Georgia High School Association to host a doubleheader Friday since both its boys and girls teams are first-round hosts.

Teams that won region championships or finished runner-up earned the right to host first round games. Second round games will be hosted by the highest seeded team.

The tournament moves to neutral sites for the quarterfinals and final four.

But to the teams that are fortunate to play host, they will not take it for granted that there's no place like home.

The Forest Park girls team, ranked No. 6 in the state, was undefeated at home this season. The Lady Panthers, the Region 4-AAAA champion, did not lose to an in-state team this season.

"We are real comfortable playing at home," said junior guard Cydni Bivins said.

They are hoping to make the situation uncomfortable for visiting Ware County on Friday. The Lady Gators (11-16) will be making the five-hour trek from Waycross for the 6 p.m. start.

"I'm glad we are not having to travel, especially five hours," Bivins said. "That is a lot."

Union Grove will host its first state playoff game on Saturday. The Wolverines have one of the most vocal student sections in the area that has coordinated chants.

Players say it is the energy from the home crowd that gets them pumped to play.

"If you get down, you can feed off the energy from the crowd," Cantrell said. "It is definitely a big plus to play in front of your home crowd during the season, and especially in the playoffs."