By Derrick Mahone
Justin Tuoyo realizes that he and his teammates at Lovejoy have a big target on their backs.
The third-ranked Wildcats sit atop the Region 4-AAAA standings, but understands that the race for the regular season championship is far from over.
"Everybody is targeting us," Tuoyo said. "We are going to get everybody's best game from here on out."
Winning the regular-season championship has some added incentive because the champion automatically qualifies for the state tournament.
The winner is placed in the semifinals game at the upcoming region tournament next month.
Finishing in the top five would means a team has to win one tournament game to get a state playoff berth. Teams that finish in sixth or seventh place in the 10-team region would have to win two games, and seventh and below would mean winning three times to earn a state berth.
"Nobody will be taking any team lightly in this region," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. "You have to come to play every night."
Jonesboro's two region losses have come against Lovejoy and North Clayton. The Cardinals will not get a rematch against Lovejoy, but will host North Clayton on Jan. 25.
The Eagles and Tri-Cities are currently tied for third place in the standings. Tri-Cities won the earlier meeting.
"We are very excited about the rest of the season," North Clayton forward Marcus Hunt said.
"We started out slowly in the region, but we are now picking it up. We are looking to finish strong."
With the cancellation of games this week because of the inclement weather, teams face the possibility of having to play some added weekday games to makeup in the region schedule.
Mundy's Mill has been one of the hottest teams in the league since the Christmas break. The Tigers have won eight of their last nine games and are now 9-5 overall and 3-4 in the region.
While their record has been as spectacular, Forest Park have been making some steady improvement. The Panthers could be a tough out come tournament time next month.
Forest Park coach Antonio Wade likes his team chances if they can continue to improve.
"We can be competitive," he said. "Lovejoy and Jonesboro look to be the two teams to beat right now. But every night is a fight in this region. You got to come to play.
We know it's not going to be easy. Our goal is to get better."
On the girls' side, Forest Park has not lost a game to an in-state team this season. The Lady Panthers are schedule to meet North Clayton in a key region matchup Friday, if weather permits. Both teams are the only remaining undefeated teams in the region.
Forest Park is in first place with an 8-0 record while North Clayton is 7-0 in league play.