North Hall vs. Riverwood
When: 5:30 tonight
Where: Northwest Georgia Trade Center, Dalton
Records: North Hall (26-3); Riverwood (19-12)
Seeds: North Hall No. 1 Region 7-AAA; Riverwood No. 2 Region 5-AAA
Coaches: North Hall, Benjie Wood. Riverwood, Michael Mezzio.
Key players: North Hall, PG Lance White (5-8, So.); SG Chris Barnes (5-8, Jr.); PF Trevor Ross (6-1, Sr.). Riverwood, PF Kyle Davidson (6-5, Sr.); SG Alex Vital (6-0, Sr.); PG Mitch Alterman (5-8, Jr).
Outlook: The Trojans enter tonight’s contest riding a 10-game winning streak and focused on advancing to Macon for the first time in program history.
While some teams might need some time to adjust to playing in an arena like the Northwest Trade Center, the Trojans have experience playing in large gyms, as they played two games at Phillips Arena this year and one at North Georgia College & State University.
“That’s why we played those games,” Wood said, “so we will be prepared for games like this.”
Preparation is the key to advancing to the semifinals, and although North Hall will have to play tonight without two suspended players, it is more than ready to face a Riverwood team that has only one player (Alterman) shorter than 6-feet tall.
“Everybody on their team is good,” Wood said, “but their point guard is the glue that holds it together.”
Battling a taller team without two players has had little impact on the team’s preparation and Wood’s summation of what needs to happen to advance to Macon.
“The bottom line is we have to put that little round ball through the hole more than they do,” he said.
Just when North Hall coach Benjie Wood didn’t think he needed any more motivational tools for his team’s Class AAA quarterfinal game against Riverwood tonight, he received word of a phone call from Brian Cagle.
Cagle, whose son Payton is a sophomore at North Hall, is currently stationed in Afghanistan and called Friday afternoon as soon as he returned from the battlefield to see how the Trojans were doing.
“He’s over there getting bullets fired at him, and he’s still focused on whether or not we’re still playing,” Wood said. “Knowing that, it would be disrespectful for us not to give it all we have.
“It’s the least we can do,” he added. “We will play as hard as we can in appreciation for all that the soldiers over there do.”
Using that call as motivation is just another way that Cagle will play a role for North Hall (26-3).
Prior to his deployment in mid-January, Cagle spoke to the team and presented the Trojans with an American flag, which every member of the program touches during the team’s pregame prayer.
It’s obvious that Cagle, who follows the team on the Internet, holds a special place in Woods’ heart.
“We want him to know that we love him and we’re doing this for him,” Wood said.
The Trojans are also doing this for their teammates Ty Smith and Robby Hill, who are both suspended for two games because they were ejected during North Hall’s 67-42 win over Franklin County on Wednesday.
“This isn’t going to be our last game,” senior Robert Humphrey said. “We told both Ty and Robby that we’re going to give them another chance to play.”
Competing without a key player like Hill might derail most teams, but North Hall is comfortable — and motivated — when it comes to playing without the senior who missed a stretch of games earlier this year due to injury.
“If nothing else, we’ll come out more focused than before,” Humphrey said. “We’ve played without him before and we’ll just need some other guys to step up and we have the players that can do it.”
One of those players is senior Trevor Ross, who Wood told it was “his time to shine.”
“We know losing those two players poses a challenge,” Wood said. “But adversity equals opportunity and this is a chance for some kids to step up.”
Especially if the Trojans want to reach the semifinals and play at the Macon Centreplex, which is a goal that prevented any prolonged celebration following Wednesday’s win.
“We enjoyed it for about five minutes, now we want to get to the final four,” Wood said. “I want these kids to experience what it’s like to run out on the floor in Macon.”
Standing in North Hall’s way is Riverwood (19-12), which reached the quarterfinals with a last-second victory over Johnson on Wednesday.
Following the defeat, Johnson coach Jeff Steele said that the Raiders were “dominating on the glass” and he relayed that message to Wood when the two spoke earlier this week.
“Rebounding the ball is going to be our biggest obstacle,” Wood said. “But we always have obstacles around here.”
The biggest obstacle all season has been his team’s “lack of intimidation,” in that no one on the Trojans’ roster steps on the court and puts fear in the opposition.
“We like that people underestimate us,” Humphrey said. “It’s just another motivator.”