GAINESVILLE — East Hall boys basketball coach Joe Dix knows exactly what is at stake when the Vikings (18-5, 8-1 Region 7A-AAA) visit Chestatee tonight. The Vikings coach goes as far as agreeing this is their most important game of the season as region seeds still hang in the balance for next week’s Region 7-AAA tournament.
East Hall is in a must-win situation against the War Eagles if it hopes to be assured of the No. 1 seed from the subregion heading into the region tournament. The Vikings are in the driver’s seat in terms of the region seedings with a head-to-head win against Chestatee (19-5, 7-2) in the first meeting of the season. East Hall controls its own fate as a result of winning 11-of-12 in Region 7-AAA since Christmas break. The Vikings’ only loss in Region 7A-AAA was to North Hall on Jan. 15.
But the Vikings still need a win tonight.
"It’s been a while since we’ve played a regular season game with these kinds of stakes involved," Dix said. "It makes it fun and shows how much parity there is in this region."
If Chestatee wins tonight, then the region seedings for the 7-AAA will most likely not be decided on what is the final night of region play. A Chestatee win combined with a North Hall (15-7, 7-2) victory over Gilmer (6-18, 0-9), results in a three-way tie between the Vikings, War Eagles and Trojans for the No. 1 seed.
The tie-breaker criteria used on the court would also be negated. All three have head-to-head loses against Flowery Branch (20-3). And all three schools would carry split head-to-head records against one another.
If a three-way tie for No. 1 in Region 7A-AAA results, the three coaches would convene on Saturday to draw names out of a hat to see who is No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, according to Dix.
"We’ve got to win this game," Vikings senior Dedric Ware said. "It’s very important for us."
"Our team knows exactly what is at stake at this point," East Hall senior guard Trevor Bishop said.
The Vikings want to carry the No. 1 seed into the tournament for two reasons. The top seed gets a first round bye, and then draws the winner of a play-in game to try and earn a spot in the AAA state playoffs. Everyone at Valhalla would like to earn No. 1 for their merits on the floor and not the result of a lottery.
"I hate coin flips," Bishop added. "The difference between being the No. 1 and No. 3 seed is huge."
As much as East Hall hopes to avoid a tie-breaker, Chestatee would love it. The War Eagles have plenty to play for in the final game of the Region 7A-AAA schedule, including a shot at their first subregion title in school history and their first 20-win regular season.
"We have a chance to win the subregion against the best team in Hall County over the past 40 years, so we must be doing something right," War Eagles coach Russ Triaga said. "But the opportunity is only worth something if we take advantage of it."
According to Dix, the Vikings’ defense is going to have to continue to play well to beat the War Eagles. East Hall is averaging 20 steals per game. Dix says their forte has been in the half court.
And then there’s the Parker Smith factor. Smith is averaging 34.5 points per game for the War Eagles, including 53- and 46-point games this season. In the first meeting between these schools this season Smith scored 28 at East Hall.
East Hall’s coach knows it’s not realistic to try to eliminate Smith’s impact. He’s still going to be able to score points. Dix just wants to minimize his uncontested shots.
The Vikings also want to keep Smith away from the free throw line. Since last season, Smith has only missed one free throw against East Hall in three games, including a 14-for-14 effort.
"Parker is able to score when he wants to," Ware said. "We just have to guard the line."
"If we let Parker get to the free throw line that’s an automatic two points," Dix added.