JONESBORO — The Jonesboro starting five of Daniel Peace, Duby Okeke, Cameron Sutton, Patrick Petty and Casey Wells made their presence felt in Tuesday’s Class AAAA quarterfinal playoff game.
But it wasn’t on the basketball court. It was on the sideline. Front row of the bleachers in Jonesboro High’s gym.
They were the Jonesboro student’s section, pushing the Lady Cardinals with their cheers and enthusiasm. Shouting encouragement to Victoria Florence, Briana Benson or any other Jonesboro girls player on the court that came within earshot.
And I’m sure there was a little good natured heckling directed toward the Howard team that made the hour trek from Macon.
But it helped push Jonesboro to a 51-39 quarterfinals win Tuesday night. It helped Jonesboro punch its ticket to its second straight Class AAAA semifinals appearance. And it also gave credence to a word that everybody in Jonesboro athletics — from athletic director and boys head basketball and baseball coach Dan Maehlman to the team of ladies and students that keep the stat book during Cardinals home games.
So what’s so special about the boys being glorified cheerleaders for the girls?
Perhaps it’s because the boys team is still smarting from having its season stopped prematurely in Statesboro Saturday.
With an entire lineup returning from last season’s second straight semifinals appearance, winning a state crown seemed like the logical next step for Maehlman’s squad.
But thanks to a 76-69 loss in hostile Statesboro this past weekend in the second round, the Cardinals didn’t even get the opportunity to get back to the round of four — let alone the state championship game.
But you couldn’t tell it by the way they rooted for the ladies.
They rose and fell with every swing of momentum in a game that was closer than the score indicated. They pushed the sometimes subdued Jonesboro fans into boisterous celebratory cheers and raucous boos, depending on which way the calls went.
They matched, decibel for decibel, the sizable contingent of Howard fans who made the trek from Macon. It was as if the Jonesboro boys were saying: “You’re not going to out shout us in our own gym.”
It was inspiring to watch. I made mention of it on Twitter and Facebook. To which I received a prompt response from a Jonesboro fan Dana Thomas.
“That’s how we do it at the ‘Boro,” she said.
Do the boys still wish they were in the state tournament — a team full of seniors fighting for their last chance at a state crown? Sure they do.
But with a selfless show of love to the lady ballers, they helped make sure that Jonesboro still has a shot at hoisting some basketball hardware on March 7 in Macon.
The Lady Cardinals provided a masterful display of defensive intensity Tuesday night. They showed passion. They had heart. Insert your other favorite effort-based sports cliche here. Benson, Florence, Kim Dawkins and company showed it.
They needed all of it too. Howard challenged Jonesboro in a way it hadn’t experienced thus far in the state tournament. And next obstacle standing in the way of that coveted state title won’t be any easier.
Jonesboro will meet top-ranked Colombia Saturday at Fort Valley State. The Eagles, fresh off a 68-27 quarterfinals win over River Ridge, won the Class AAA title last season, and bring a championship pedigree into the contest.
For coach Lamar Harris’ bunch to extend their season to Macon, they’ll no doubt need their big three of Benson, Florence and Dawkins to produce big time. They’ll need perhaps their best and most consistent defensive effort of the season.
And they’ll no doubt need the extra support of the Jonesboro basketball family in order to get over the hump.
My crystal ball is in the shop right now, so I can’t tell you if they’ll have the first two.
But if what I saw Tuesday was any indication, the family part is in the bag.
Gabriel Stovall is a staff writer for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? @gabrielstovall1.