Commerce vs. Our Lady of Mercy
When: 7 tonight
Records: Commerce (21-7); Our Lady of Mercy (15-13)
Seeds: Commerce, No. 1 Region 8-A; Our Lady of Mercy, No. 4 Region 5-A
Coaches: Commerce, Chad Bridges. Our Lady of Mercy, Tony Caruso.
Key players: Commerce, PG Tyler Gamble (6-0, Jr.); G Brandon Romans (6-0, Jr.); SG Bubba Bonds (5-10, Jr.). Our Lady of Mercy, PF Najgee Gatson (6-7, Sr.); F Courtney Prevost (Jr.); PG Issac Moore (Sr.).
Outlook: With its first region championship since 1980 already secure, Commerce begins its quest to continue its historical season by reaching the second round of the state tournament for the first time in 11 years.
The Tigers enter tonight as winners of four straight and six of their last seven, thanks to a balanced scoring attack and good guard play. Gamble led Commerce in the region tournament, scoring 23 in a one-point win over Social Circle and 15 in the title game against Athens Christian.
Meanwhile, Our Lady of Mercy limps into the postseason after losing three of its last five games, but two of those losses came against top-10 teams, Whitefield Academy and Pace Academy. In fact, Whitefield and Pace have combined to give the Bobcats five of their losses this season.
Gatson is a force inside for Our Lady of Mercy, and Commerce doesn’t have his kind of size on the roster. Bridges said the Tigers will depend on man-to-man defense with aggressive help away from the ball to try to neutralize the Bobcats’ big man.
Dawson County vs. Callaway
When: 6 tonight
Records: Dawson County (20-8); Callaway (18-7)
Seeds: Dawson County No. 4 Region 8-AA; Callaway No. 1 Region 5-AA
Coaches: Dawson County, Thad Burgess. Callaway, Greg Moultrie.
Key players: Dawson County, PG Stephen Scaife (5-8, Jr.); PF Jacob Evans (6-1, Jr.); G/F Tyler Dominy (6-3, Fr.). Callaway, SF Quantavius Leslie (6-3, Sr.); SG D.J. Rutledge (5-11, Sr.); PG Terrance Jackson (5-11, Jr.).
Directions: Take I-985 S to I-85 S. Take exit 18 for GA-109 toward LaGrange. Take a right at GA-109 W/Lafayette Parkway. Take a right at S Davis Road/State Spur 14 and continue onto David Bypass. Take a right at Hammett Road and then your first right onto Whitfield Road. Callaway High School will be on your left.
Outlook: In a rarity for a team without a senior, Dawson County enters its fourth consecutive postseason with possibly its most experienced roster — at least when it comes to the state playoffs.
“Getting to the playoffs isn’t as big of a thing as it used to be for us,” Burgess said. “It’s almost like it’s expected. I don’t if that’s good or bad, but we’re going to approach it like it’s a good thing.”
Despite facing one of the most athletic teams the Tigers have seen this year, Burgess said he also feels good about the Tigers’ chances.
Slowing down Leslie, the 5-AA tournament MVP and a West Virginia football signee, will be a key as Dawson County tries to contain the Cavaliers’ full-court style of play. Callaway has won of seven of its last eight, and won the region tournament despite coming in as the No. 3 seed.
For the Tigers, success usually starts with Scaife, who averages 17 points and four assists per game, while Evans (15 points, 11 rebounds per game) leads the team in the paint. Dominy has come on strong lately, averaging 13.5 points per game in the last 10 contests.
East Hall Vikings vs. Ringgold
When: 7:30 tonight
Records: East Hall (18-9); Ringgold (18-7)
Seeds: East Hall No. 3 Region 7-AAA; Ringgold No. 2 Region 6-AAA
Coaches: East Hall, Joe Dix. Ringgold, Greg Elkins.
Key players: East Hall, PG Charles Perry (5-7, Sr.); PG J.C. Hampton (5-11, So.); C Chaz Cheeks (6-4, Jr.). Ringgold, SG Nick Scott (5-9, So.); PF Martez Eastland (6-0, Sr.).
Outlook: The Vikings enter tonight’s game winners of five of their last six, and seeing how they defeated Region 7-AAA’s No. 2 seed West Hall twice during the regular season, some may argue that they are the second best team in the region. East Hall features a bevy of talented players, and are deep enough to substitute five guys at a time so fatigue doesn’t set in. That, and their ability to make 3-pointers, could give them an advantage against a Ringgold team that is averaging 59 points a game this year.
“Hopefully we can get into their bench and continue to attack them,” Dix said.
Dix said that Ringgold’s 2-3 zone defense is one of the best he’s seen, and that he hopes the Vikings’ up-tempo style of play will prevent that defense from getting set.
On offense, the Blue Devils like to feed the ball to Eastland, who is committed to play football for Ole Miss and who Dix said was just as good at basketball as he is in football. It’s no surprise that Eastland is the focal point of Ringgold offense, which Dix compared to North Hall.
“They just keep coming at you and shoot well from the perimeter,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle of tempo in the form of whose tempo will be imposed on the other guys.”
Jefferson Dragons vs. Manchester
When: 7 tonight
Records: Jefferson (22-6); Manchester (19-8)
Seeds: Jefferson No. 1 Region 8-AA; Manchester No. 4 Region 5-AA
Coaches: Jefferson, Bolling DuBose. Manchester, Curtis Noble.
Key players: Jefferson, PG Darius Minor (6-1, Sr.); F J.J. Damons (6-2, Jr.); SG David Watson (6-0, Jr.). Manchester, SG Tray Steverson (5-8, Sr.); SG Tremaine Kelley (5-8, Jr.).
Outlook: As odd as it sounds, the Dragons probably owe their rivals Commerce a bit of gratitude for earning the No. 1 seed from Region 8-AA. After all, it was a loss to the Tigers that sent Jefferson on its current 15 game winning streak.
“That motivated the kids,” DuBose said. “They realized how they needed to play in order to do something and we haven’t lost since.”
The Dragons will have to keep that up in round one against a Manchester team that was in first place last week before getting upset in the region tournament.
The Blue Devils are similar to Jefferson in that they like a fast-paced game and have no players taller than 6-3. DuBose expects this game to be “a track meet” and that the outcome will be decided on which team shoots better.
Johnson Knights vs. Carrollton
When: 7 tonight
Records: Johnson (15-12); Carrollton (22-3)
Seeds: Johnson No. 4 Region 7-AAA; Carrollton No. 1 Region 6-AAA
Coaches: Johnson, Jeff Steele; Carrollton, Tim Criswell.
Key players: Johnson, C E.J. Wright (6-4, Sr.); SG Grant Cagle (6-4, Sr.); SF Tre Dudley (6-1, Sr.). Carrollton, C David Love (6-4, Jr.); SF A.J. Barge (6-2, Jr.); SG Josh Barge (6-0, So.); SG Louis Hudson (Sr.).
Outlook: The good news for the Knights is that they are playoff bound for the first time since 2006 as a result of last Friday’s win against West Forsyth in the Region 7-AAA tournament. The bad news is losses to West Hall and East Hall to round out tournament play send the Knights into the postseason as a No. 4 seed.
Entering the playoffs, Dudley is Johnson’s leading scorer with 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Chris Henry (11 points), Matt Hollis (11) and Cagle (10) are also averaging double digits in points per game this season. Wright is the Knights’ leading rebounder with 11 rebounds per game.
“Johnson shoots the ball extremely well from the perimeter, which always presents problems and they are a very well coached team,” Criswell said.
Meanwhile, Carrollton cruised through the regular season with its only losses coming twice against LaGrange and an overtime loss to Ridgeland. The Trojans are predicated on playing sound defense, balanced scoring and the ability to substitute five players in and out of the game at one time to keep fresh legs.
“The Trojans are a very athletic and aggressive team,” Johnson assistant coach Michael Parker said. “It is going to be a tough task for us to go to Carrollton and come away with a win, but we have confidence in our guys to execute the game plan that we have in place.”
Lakeview Academy vs. Pace Academy
When: 8:30 tonight
Records: Lakeview (16-13); Pace Academy (20-8)
Seeds: Lakeview No. 3 Region 8-A; Pace Academy No. 2 Region 5-A
Coaches: Lakeview, Seth Vining. Pace Academy, Michael Callahan.
Key players: Lakeview, G Daniel Olvera (6-2, Sr.); SG Austin Pearson (5-9, So.); F Jackson Wells (6-4, Jr.). Pace Academy, G Josh Swann (6-3, Jr.); G Alex Davis (6-0, Jr.); G Kevin McCall (5-11, Sr.).
Directions from Gainesville: Take I-985 S, merge onto I-85 S and take exit 85 onto I-75 N. Exit 255 for US-41/Northside Parkway toward W Paces Ferry Rd. Take a left at Northside Parkway NW and a right onto W Paces Ferry Road. Pace Academy will be on your right.
Outlook: For the seventh straight year, Lakeview is back in the state tournament.
The Lions have won six of their last seven, but the only loss in that span came at a bad time — in the Region 8-A tournament semifinals. Lakeview rebounded for a big win in the third-place game, but must now head out on the road to take on a top-10 opponent.
The high-scorinig Knights like to play fast and “crash the boards extremely hard,” Vining said. Keeping Pace Academy off the glass and handling the defensive pressure will be crucial for the Lions.
Lakeview’s biggest strength may lie in its depth and balance; up to 12 Lions get regular minutes, and contributions come from all over.
Olvera and 3-point specialist Austin Pearson lead the team with 12 points per game, with three more Lions scoring at least seven per contest. Olvera also leads the team in assists and steals, while four Lions have logged more than 100 rebounds this season, led by Wells with close to six per game.
North Hall Trojans vs. Central-Carroll
When: 7 tonight
Where: North Hall
Records: North Hall (22-3); Central-Carroll (9-19)
Seeds: North Hall No. 1 Region 7-AAA; Central-Carroll No. 4 Region 6-AAA
Coaches: North Hall, Benjie Wood; Central-Carroll, Jimmy LeBlanc.
Key players: North Hall, PG Lance White (5-9, So.); C Robby Hill (5-10, Sr.); SG Kanler Coker (6-3, So.). PG Rashad Rowe (5-10, Sr.); SG Cameron Holt (6-2, Jr.); SG Anthony Rounds (6-5, So.).
Outlook: North Hall should be feeling good about things heading into the playoffs with its first region title since 1991. The Trojans pulled out the region title against West Hall on Tuesday by only allowing 17 combined points in the second and third quarter.
Since a win against Buford on Dec. 18, the Trojans have won 17 of 18 games.
“North Hall is an exceptional team,” LeBlanc said. “They rebound exceptionally well, run the floor well, have a deep roster and play great on defense.”
Meanwhile, Central-Carroll qualified for the playoffs with a win against Lafayette in the Region 6-AAA tournament. LeBlanc says his roster is young with one senior, a couple juniors, eight sophomores and two freshmen that see playing time.
Rounds (13 points per game), Rowe (10) and Holt (9) are the leading scorers for the Lions.
Riverside Military Eagles vs. Spencer
When: 6:30 tonight
Where: Curtis Hall, Gainesville
Records: Riverside Military (17-4); Spencer (17-10)
Seeds: Riverside Military No. 2 Region 8-AA; Spencer No. 3 Region 5-AA
Coaches: Riverside Military, Rico Zackery; Spencer, Walter Jackson
Key players: Riverside Military, SG Richard Tribble (6-1, Sr.); SG Kane Duncan (6-3, Sr.); PF Dylen Setzekorn (6-5, Sr.). Spencer, SF Jeff Thelisma (6-5, Jr.); PF Jamell Crowley (6-2, Sr.); PF Telvin Johnson (6-1, Sr.).
Outlook: Riverside looks to have a short memory after Tuesday’s Region 8-AA championship game loss to Jefferson, 58-57. Still, it was quite a memorable regular season for the Eagles, who had won 12 straight heading into the tournament finals.
The reward for such a strong regular season, and wins against Walnut Grove and Dawson County to open the Region 8-AA tournament, is a home game to open the Class AA state playoffs against the Green Wave. It marks the second consecutive season that the Eagles have opened the GHSA state playoffs at home since moving back from the GISA after the 2008 season.
Riverside Military is led in scoring by Tribble, a senior, with 16 points and four steals per game. Tarvin Dukes, a junior, leads the Eagles with nine rebounds per outing.
After qualifying for the playoffs with a 69-62 overtime win against Heard County in the Region 5-AA tournament, Spencer lost to Lamar County, 48-46. The Green Wave defeated Manchester, 76-65, in the third-place game.
West Hall Spartans vs. Cartersville
When: 7 tonight
Records: West Hall (18-11); Cartersville (15-12)
Seeds: West Hall No. 2 Region 7-AAA; Cartersville No. 3 Region 6-AAA
Coaches: West Hall, Warren Sellers. Cartersville, Dennis Godfrey.
Key players: West Hall, PG Jarquise Young (5-7, Jr.); F Shunquez Stephens (6-5, Jr.). Cartersville, PG Talique Cochran (5-10, Jr.); SG Tyquan Glaze (6-0, Sr.).
Outlook: A 6-6 subregion record gave West Hall the No. 5 seed for the region tournament, but it didn’t prevent the Spartans from making some noise and advancing to the title game.
The big win of the tournament came against top-seeded Gainesville, in which West Hall lost both of its post players — Stephens and William Stroup (6-6) — but still escaped with a one-point overtime win. Stephens, who has averaged 20.25 points and more than 10 rebounds in the past four games, is the go-to guy on the Spartans, but the team relies on the strong guard play of Young (17 ppg. in the last four) and Dre Pou, who scored 11 points per game in the final three region tourney contests. Those two will have their hands full with Cartersville, which boasts quick guards who have the propensity to take (and make) plenty of 3-pointers.
West Hall will have a size advantage inside, as Cartersville’s starting post players (Nick Richards and Jeremiah Ellis) are around 6-feet tall. That could spell a big night for Stephens and Stroup, who have the ability to score easy baskets off missed shots.