The North Hall boys basketball team’s 19-6 regular-season record didn’t automatically give the Trojans a playoff spot — but it gave the team the tools to make it there.
When last year’s region tournament rolled around, the Trojans still had to win one game to reach the semifinals and qualify for the state tournament. North Hall did just that by defeating Johnson High, thanks in part to the home-court advantage that came with its solid region record.
“Us being the No. 2 seed (in the region tournament), our win-or-go-home game was in our gym,” Trojans coach Tyler Sanders said. “That meant a great deal to us.”
Area teams will be jockeying for that favorable playoff positioning over the next five weeks as they head into the thick of region play. North Hall, East Hall and Lakeview Academy all return to region action today, and other local schools will join them later this week in kickstarting the home stretch of their schedules that will ultimately determine their playoff fates.
“Any time you lace them up and go out there on the court, your goal is to score more points than they do,” said Lakeview Academy girls coach John Carrick. “But we understand that these games are more important because this puts you in prime shape to get a better seed for the state tournament.”
Carrick’s team took that message to heart last year, when the Lady Lions lost only one region game and used their No. 1 region tournament seed to clinch a playoff spot.
Lakeview Academy is off to a similar start this season, having won its three region 8-A games so far. Both the girls and boys team will begin what Carrick calls the “second third” of the three-part season when they travel to Hebron Christian Academy.
Sanders and North Hall, meanwhile, face Dawson County in hopes to improve their 2-2 start to Region 7-AAA play.
“Now it really gets rolling,” Sanders said. “We only have one non-region game the rest of the way, so every one of them are very important to help determine where we’re going to stand in the region tournament come February. They’re all important from here on out.”
Coaches and players know what’s at stake down the stretch, but they must refocus for region play after a taxing three-day tournament.
Area teams last played in the Lanierland tournament, which ran from Dec. 28-30 and featured boys and girls brackets of eight Hall County schools. Not only are three straight days of basketball physically grueling, but the pressure of playing in packed gyms can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
That’s why Carrick and Sanders gave their players the weekend off to refresh both body and mind heading into region play.
“It’s hard because you kind of stop what you’re doing and the flow you’ve been in for the first few weeks of the season, and you have to do it three straight days,” Sanders said. “ … But you have to reset now, take a couple days and get focused back on the region schedule. In the end, that’s what is most important.”
It’s so important that Sanders said his team has “a little bit more detailed” scouting reports for region opponents. Carrick, however, said he tries to prepare for every team equally.
What the coaches do agree on is the importance of region play.
“If you can win the regular-season region games,” Carrick said, “then you’ll go into the tournament with a better opportunity to win it all.”