Photo by Derrick Mahone
Patrick Petty works on free throws at Jonesboro’s Monday practice. The junior guard says the Cardinals “feed off a hostile environment,” something they’re likely to face at North Clayton tonight.
As a sophomore, Patrick Petty wasn’t asked to score. There were Division I-caliber upperclassmen to handle those duties. All he had to do was play good defense and make whatever offensive contribution he could the blue-collar way.
As a junior, however, Petty has become one of Jonesboro’s go-to guys. The Cardinals went to him last week and he helped deliver their eighth straight victory, hitting the game-winning shot against Forest Park.
Chances are the Cardinals — and North Clayton — will be looking for the 6-foot guard tonight when Jonesboro visits the Eagles in a key Region 4-AAAA game. Now that the Cardinals have gotten into the meat of their schedule, Petty has relaxed, having grown more comfortable with his role.
Early on, Petty tried to make things happen and took ill-advised shots that didn’t fit the game plan. But since he has gotten adjusted to scoring — and just as importantly, his teammates with him scoring — Petty doesn’t feel the need to jam a square peg into a round hole.
“I’ve got the hang of it now,” Petty said Monday. “I’m not taking bad shots. I started going with the flow.”
Coach Dan Maehlman played a big part in helping Petty acclimate.
“Coach Maehlman had a talk with me in the locker room and said to let the game come to me,” Petty said. “And it did come to me.”
That’s part of the reason the Cardinals say they’re relaxed going into tonight’s game. They sit in first place in the region, tied with Lovejoy at 12-1, though head to head, Lovejoy holds the tiebreaker. North Clayton is in third at 9-3.
“I don’t think the pressure’s on us,” Petty said. “We control our own destiny.”
None of that, the Cardinals stress, is to underestimate the task at hand. They lost at North Clayton last year.
“I would like to say that (North Clayton) is the toughest place to play in the region,” Maehlman said. “It seems like everything’s so small and in tight on you, the fans are more on top of you. It seems like everyone there is rooting against Jonesboro and sometimes you don’t realize you have fans over there.”
Petty said the Cardinals will try to use that to their advantage.
“We’re young; we feed off a hostile environment,” he said. “It makes us play better, with more intensity.”
Junior point guard Daniel Peace said Jonesboro knows what to expect.
“We already know it’s going to be a hostile environment,” Peace said. “Over the last two years, they’ve become our county rival, region rival and we know how it’s going to be.”
The Cardinals won the first meeting 51-48 on Jan. 6 at home. Because of that, they expect the Eagles to redouble their efforts to even the score.
“Since we beat them, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder and they’ve got to protect their house,” Peace said. “I’m expecting their best.”
Said Petty, “I feel they’ll come harder than they came the first time. It feels like we have that bull’s eye on our back.”
It isn’t that they have the bull’s eye on their back that makes Maehlman feel as good as he does about his Cardinals. It’s that they seem to know how to handle it.
“With this group here, when they play big games, they get that look on their face,” Maehlman said. “We’ve played North Clayton here, Forest Park there, Rockdale in the Hoops in Overdrive tournament, Wheeler as a scrimmage.
“After going to the final four with Pat and Cam(eron Sutton), I don’t see them getting rattled. I told them I could see the look in their eyes and I could tell that they had confidence in their teammates and coaches that they were going to get the job done. As a coach, that’s an awesome feeling. Sometimes, you see kids looking at each other, asking, ‘Who’s going to do this?’ ”
This bunch, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like it has played its best ball.
“I’d say we’ve been playing at about 70 percent so far,” Peace said. “We still haven’t played at 100 percent.”
The Cardinals expect North Clayton’s best, but consider themselves capable of even better that.
“Honestly, 110 percent,” Peace said.