When: 7 tonight
Coaches: Chestatee, Web Daniel. Cartersville, Donna Enis.
Records: Chestatee (23-5, No. 4 Region 8-AAA), Cartersville (18-11, No. 2 Region 7-AAA)
Key players: Chestatee, PG Samantha Brown (5-9, So.); SF Rachel Kelly (5-10, Sr.); C Peyton Robertson (6-2, Sr.). Cartersville, F Katie O’Connor (6-0, Fr.); G Kaelyn Irby (5-7, Fr.); G Kea Garnigan (5-6, Jr.).
Round 2 High school basketball playoff previews
Chestatee girls coach Web Daniel is happy its second round playoff game tonight against Cartersville is on the road, because that’s where the War Eagles have played their best basketball all season.
“When we play at home, the girls have too much time on their hands,” Daniel said. “I don’t like the team sitting around and worrying about texting, cell phones, facebook and boyfriends.”
There seems to be some merit to his statement, especially at this critical juncture of the playoffs with only 16 teams still standing in Class AAA.
In the first round, the Lady War Eagles (23-5) ventured out on the road as a No. 4 seed and knocked off top-seeded LaGrange, 36-29, last Friday. Preparing for tough road games in the postseason is the same reason that Daniel, making his second playoff appearance with the War Eagles, scheduled challenging games during the regular season.
“On the road, we have more time to bond and focus on being a team and not focus on any outside worries,” sophomore Sam Brown said. “We just love going on the road to play.”
So as the Lady War Eagles shot around during practice on Monday, there wasn’t a care in the world with regard to basketball. Chestatee’s players were pumped up about hunkering down together for the 60-mile trip to face the Lady Purple Hurricanes (18-11) today.
Making the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history would mean redemption for Chestatee after the Lady War Eagles fell short of the postseason last year.
“We feel like we have a lot to prove as a team,” said senior Rachel Kelly, who averages eight points and five rebounds. “We like being in the role of an underdog.”
Against Cartersville, the Lady War Eagles have the edge in terms of experience with a veteran squad led by Peyton Robertson (16 points, seven rebounds) and Kelly. Meanwhile, the Purple Hurricanes, a No. 2 seed out of Region 7-AAA, are led by freshmen forwards Katie O’Connor (6.0 points), Stefanie Will (8.0 points), Kaelyn Irby (17.0 points) and junior Kea Garnigan (12.0 points).
Chestatee’s players know that Cartersville likes to try and get the ball inside the 6-foot O’Connor. The Lady War Eagles are going to try to counter that with an active defense and a hand in the face of Cartersville’s shooters.
“Chestatee is a very fundamental, sound basketball team,” Cartersville coach Donna Enis said. “I coached Peyton last year in the GACA Junior All-Star game, and I know how talented she is as a player.
“I feel like they have a big advantage because they are so seasoned as a team.”
Despite the flattering review, Daniel isn’t going to take Cartersville lightly.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, every team is in the playoffs for a reason,” Daniel said. “Everyone is tough, no matter who you play.”
Chestatee is also going to try to get the ball in the hands of its 6-foot-2 center Robertson. Daniel comes right out and says that’s his game plan, especially in the clutch.
Against LaGrange in the first round, it was Robertson’s shooting at the free throw line that helped extend Chestatee’s season. Leading by one with less than a minute to go, she was fouled on three straight possessions and responded by hitting all six shots to secure the victory.
“Those shots were nothing but net,” Daniel said.
Chestatee knew it was going to have to be resilient after losing the Region 8-AAA tournament semifinal game at home against Franklin County, assuring the Lady War Eagles of a playoff opener on the road. Even losing to North Hall in the third-place game didn’t derail their hopes.
Robertson helped try to set the team back on track with an emotional plea to the team after losing to the Lions in the locker room after the game. She wasn’t going to lay down in the playoffs without a fight.
“We look forward to extending the season for our seniors as long as possible,” Brown said. “We feel like we have to prove it to everyone else that we can play with the best of the best.”