Tournament time in the sport of basketball is brutal; exhilarating, but brutal.
The teams with nothing to lose are feared, and the teams that have spent the better part of three months making their opponents wish they’d never gotten off the bus are fearful.
Throw records out the window because every team in every post-season tournament is backed into a corner. And for each one that takes the floor this week in region tournaments across the state, one commonality will pervade: the instinct to survive and advance.
In the Region 7-AAA tournament, play begins at 4 p.m. today at two venues.
The Flowery Branch girls versus White County and the Johnson girls versus Chestatee are the first two matchups of the region tournament.
At first glance, pick the Lady Falcons and pick Chestatee.
At second glance, the Lady Falcons are playing a team that put up 65 against East Hall and beat them less than a month ago.
Flowery Branch beat East Hall too, but only scored 29 points while doing so, and that game was Nov. 30.
The Lady Vikings have done nothing but improve, in dramatic fashion, since Nov. 30 and pretty much looked like a well-oiled machine when the Lady Warriors beat them. On top of all that, White County beat the Lady Falcons by 10 points earlier this season.
Both teams have had a rough end to the season with Flowery Branch losing five of its last six and White County on a six-game losing streak of its own. But, unless Jessica Hart and Molly May decide they aren’t ready for it to be over, White County’s going to win.
Earlier in the season, Chestatee and Johnson played one of the best girls games of the regular season, a 53-44 Johnson win.
Jordan Gustavel was unconscious from 3-point land and Shekeria Cooper was tireless on the defensive end. Those two, plus a couple of other players, will have to be heard for Johnson to have a shot against a Lady War Eagles team screaming with confidence after a win a week ago over Class AAA No. 8-ranked, and a No. 2 seed in the tournament, Gilmer.
The inside play of freshman center Peyton Robertson on top of the leadership of seniors Kasey Smith and Erika Lackey will have Chestatee giving teams fits in the tournament, starting with Johnson.
The two other girls matchups today are Lumpkin County versus West Hall and West Forsyth versus North Hall.
Analysis of the easy game first: North Hall playing at North Hall in the region tournament against first-year participant West Forsyth.
The Lady Trojans aren’t just more talented but they are also probably a little ticked that they have put themselves in a position to, not only have to play on day one, but win a softball tournament’s worth of games to even get to the finals.
Now here’s the bad news for West Forsyth, a center named Letiecia Davenport partnered with a point guard named Elizabeth Williams are both seniors and when those two seniors are so inclined, they can dominate and will end West Forsyth’s season today.
In the day’s final girls matchup, considering the Lady Spartans have an answer for Lumpkin County’s Ashley Brown and West Hall’s Kim Smigelsky and Jayla Moon show up to the party, they should win. West Hall beat the Lady Indians by 13 points at the beginning of the season and have gotten better since.
In the second round, its unlikely that Gilmer, Gainesville or East Hall will lose putting them all in the semifinals. The possible quarterfinal matchup that has heads spinning is North Hall-Pickens.
A neutral court, two teams that haven’t faced each other since the first game of the season way back when, coupled with it being the region tournament is a perfect backdrop for a barn burner.
In the game played on Nov. 27, Pickens won by six.
The boys are different than the girls in that the parity of the region won’t rear its ugly head until the quarterfinal round.
Today, the Gainesville boys should have little trouble with Gilmer, the Red Elephants beat the Bobcats by 40 in their first meeting, and Chestatee will have little to no trouble against Pickens, the War Eagles have beaten the Dragons once this season.
Johnson will end Lumpkin County’s season and White County should prevail over a West Forsyth team that they beat by 31 earlier this season.
A possible North Hall-Gainesville game would be the most interesting because the only time the two teams met in the regular season, North Hall won by two in overtime.
It matters not who East Hall or Flowery Branch play, both teams will be in the semifinals, and if you feel the need to argue about that you’ve clearly been living under a rock.
The other quarterfinal game that could be interesting, considering Chestatee’s Parker Smith doesn’t hit for 50, is a possible game between Chestatee and West Hall.
Earlier in the season, first round of Lanierland actually, the Spartans lost by 14 points to the War Eagles but Lanierland is Lanierland and this is later in the season and teams get better, most teams get better.
Chestatee coach Russ Triaga eluded last week to a possible date, and rematch, for his team with East Hall on Friday and one thing is for sure, East Hall will be there.
The other, "for sure," Flowery Branch will be in the semifinals too and it will matter little who they play, the Falcons will also be in the finals.
They beat North Hall by 13 points earlier this season and the two times they’ve played Gainesville they’ve won by 19 and 18 points respectively.
Flowery Branch simply has too many weapons and, despite a sometimes over zealousness that manifests itself in the form of fouls, the Falcons defense is nothing short of annoying which is exactly how it should be.
The only competition for Flowery Branch in the tournament would be East Hall and, barring a break down by the Vikings big three in Trevor Bishop, Ken Wise and Dedric Ware, the two teams will meet for the region final next Saturday.
And oh what a final it should be.
The Falcons and Vikings are virtually mirror images of each other with one exception, the Vikings have been there before and the Falcons haven’t and that hunger accompanied by a bevy of talent should carry them to the title.
The girls, well, while the games leading up to the inevitable will be good, East Hall and Gainesville will play each other for the region championship and here’s why.
The Lady Red Elephants have two teams, a small team and a big team. The small team of Kiana Glasper, Taylor Ricketts, KiKi Thompson, Jaymee Carnes at center and which ever other post coach Manson Hill throws in there will absolutely dog a team in full-court man-to-man.
The big team, with Jaymee Carnes on the wing, Loren Thomas running point, Mikelyn DeFoor at the shooting guard and, again, whichever other post player Hill throws in there, will zone press you to death and make it nearly impossible to throw over or around their long arms.
While Gainesville has two teams, East Hall has two post players named Sada Wheeler and Tierra Benton.
They are pretty good.
It’s the Lady Red Elephants defense, balance and guard play, however, that will lead them to a region title.
In the Region 8-A tournament the No. 2-seeded Lakeview girls are playing, at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the last team they played in the regular season.
Just as proof of how teams can improve over the course of a couple of months of playing together, on Jan. 5 Lakeview beat Athens Christian by two points, last week the Lady Lions routed the Lady Eagles by 29.
However, it’s hard to beat a team three times but considering Lakeview is able to do accomplish that feat the Lady Lions will be heading into the state tournament at the end of what most called a rebuilding year at best.
As for the Lakeview boys, the team has won 10 straight region games and whether they play Towns County, which the Lions beat by 55 points the last time they met or Hebron, which Lakeview downed by 45 points; the boys should be in the semifinals and headed to state.
If Lakeview stays hot, considering the Lions have beaten handily each possible tournament opponent during the regular season, the team will win region and hopefully retire Seth Vining’s pants — hopefully.
The Buford girls and boys teams, even though their records don’t prove it, are in the same boat where the Region 6-AA tournament is concerned.
The boys have little to no shot at winning region and the girls, even though the Lady Wolves are the No. 6 ranked team in Class AA, have little to no shot at winning region.
The reasons for each, however, are vastly different.
For the boys it comes down to them simply not being as talented as the other teams they play.
For the girls it comes down to the fact that the top two teams in the state, Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian, are also in Buford’s region.
What are the odds?
While the Lady Wolves will more than likely make it to the state tournament, a region title isn’t in their grasp this year.