By Bob Jones
Special to Daily
When new high schools are formed, new rivalries can develop.
It seems to be the case for Woodland High School and Union Grove High School.
"The Grove has proven to be a great rivalry for us since the opening of Woodland High School four years ago," observed Woodland girls coach Thomas McLaurin.
McLaurin is correct, and the rivalry played out in a pair of close basketball games at Union Grove. On the girls side, the Woodland Lady Wolfpack roared back from a nine-point deficit in the third to capture a 49-43 victory in 3A-AAAA region action, while the Union Grove boys were nearly perfect from the free throw line in the fourth to defeat Woodland 55-49.
For the girls Woodland improved to 15-4 overall and 7-2 in 3A-AAAA while Union Grove fell to 8-7, 3-5. The Union Grove Wolverines edged ahead of Woodland in 3A-AAAA play, as the Wolverines now own a mark of 10-6, 6-2 to Woodland's 11-8, 6-3.
"The determination of our team this year has been a factor in the team's success," reported McLaurin. "Each game, we take the floor with the attitude of 'by any means necessary.' We are starting to peak at the right time, just before the tournament. We are seeing maturity from some key players like Ayana Lambert, Bendrea Willis, and our only senior Diamond Sneed. Jasmine Strozier continues to light it up from the outside, and our point guard, sophomore Morgan Jones has become the true floor leader. We know Union Grove, as always, is going to give us their best. This is where the basketball fans of Henry County need to be tonight."
McLaurin was right about where Henry County high school basketball fans should be. The problem was, however, that very few fans actually showed up. The few and the proud fans were treated to a doubleheader full of excitement. The Lady Wolverines owned the first half, leading 13-6 after one and 19-12 at the half. However, turnovers became a problem in the second period and for the rest of the game for Union Grove.
Woodland trimmed the lead to 31-30 after three behind seven third-quarter points from Jasmine Strozier. Then fifteen fourth-quarter turnovers doomed Union Grove, and Woodland roared ahead with a 28-11 run. If it weren't for very poor free throw shooting by Woodland, the deficit might have been much larger.
Strozier fouled out, but she took game-high scoring honors at 15, adding eight rebounds and four steals for a fine night's work. Shavonne Orr and Elliotte Roberts tied for high scorer honors for the Lady Wolverines at 10. Oddly, all of Roberts points came from the charity stripe, from which she took 14 attempts. Roberts led all rebounders with nine.
When asked about his team before the game, Lady Wolverines head coach Dock Gammage replied: "We are tinkering with our rotation, trying to find the best way to win now. I think we still have a chance to do something special this year (maybe surprise some people). We are working on finishing games stronger than we started."
Wolfpack head coach David Bice commented on his 2010-2011 team in this way: "It took a little while for us to adjust to working together. We had a large influx of players from our JV team that had to learn to work with our experienced players. Our depth has improved and has helped us considerably. We are able to rest our starters a little bit more during the game and have, therefore, been able to play at a faster pace. A'Darius (Porter) has been a very good player for us this year. His rebounding has been excellent, and his overall offense has improved."
"We anticipate a very tough, defensive game against Union Grove. Coach Atkins and I have very similar philosophies about basketball, since we worked together for years as assistant coaches at Stockbridge. We do some things exactly alike, but there are enough differences to make it interesting. We have to be concerned about matchups and their ability to shoot the basketball. They run some things that are very difficult to guard because they execute so well. Offensively, we know that we are not going to necessarily get easy baskets because they are very solid on defense. We have to be patient and work the ball to get the best shot we can."
"I think this game will be decided by who defends the best, wins the rebound battle, and turns the ball over less," said Union Grove boys coach Russell Atkins. "Woodland is a very good team that is well coached, and they happen to be playing their best basketball right now so it is going to be a stiff challenge that my team is looking forward to. We will try to give Woodland and (A'Darius) Porter some different looks so they don't get comfortable."
The boys game was close in the first until Woodland edged ahead 10-5. Union Grove closed out the period on a 10-3 run for a 15-13 lead after eight minutes. Jaylan McClinton-Wise netted nine in the first for the Wolverines. It was Jordan Nelson who netted nine for Union Grove in the second, while Terrance Williams scored seven for Woodland and the teams went to break with the home-standing Wolverines holding a 30-28 margin.
Union Grove didn't score for nearly four minutes to start the second half, but Woodland couldn't open up much of a lead. Hard work on the offensive glass earned Union Grove's Charles Mann an offensive rebound putback basket as the third ended with the hosts leading 40-37. The turning point of the very close fourth quarter came at 4:27 when Merlon Jones fouled out and picked up a technical on the way to the bench. Union Grove made three of four free throws, kept the ball and made a couple more freebies. The lead changed hands and the Wolverines led 49-45, never to trail again. The Wolverines hit 13 of 14 free throws in the fourth to hold the lead.
Williams led Woodland with 15 points, but Union Grove limited big A'Darius Porter to 7 points. Union Grove had a trio of big scorers for the night. Nelson had 19, McClinton-Wise had 18, and Mann scored 14. Nelson also had nine rebounds, a pair of blocked shots, and a deadly free throw touch (8 of 9 from the line).