CLEVELAND — Those affiliated with the White County boys basketball team this season figured all along that it would have enough talent and maturity on the court to compete for a postseason spot in Region 8-AAA. Now, thanks to going 10-3 since Christmas (6-3 in North subregion play), the Warriors (15-8) have postseason play in the conversation, something the program hasn’t achieved since 2005.
But first, White County has an all-important subregion contest against Chestatee (5-17, 3-5) tonight in Cleveland. The implications of this game couldn’t be much higher considering that the Warriors and North Hall (13-9, 5-3) are deadlocked for the No. 2 spot in the subregion, which comes with a first-round bye in the region tournament.
“We know we have to have this game (tonight),” Warriors junior guard Andrew London said. “We feel like this is our year.”
If White County wins against Chestatee and North Hall defeats winless Stephens County (0-18, 0-8), there will be a tie for the second seed to region. In that case, a coin flip will decide second place.
“We feel good about our positioning in the subregion,” Warriors sixth-year coach Mark Carroll said. “We’ve played well in the subregion and know if we can earn the No. 2 seed it gives us a chance at the best possible matchup in the region tournament.”
However, the biggest perk of the second seed and first-round bye is that only one win qualifies a team for the state playoffs, which has been a goal for the Warriors.
“White County has always had good players, but hasn’t always played well as a team,” Warriors senior Ashely Lowery said. “We feel like we work well together and are just focused on getting better every day.”
Carroll says the theme to White County’s season has been the ability to win the close games, which is a must since it averages only 47 points per outing. And it’s been Lowery (14 points per game) with a 3-point shot before the buzzer to help win the game more than once this season, most recently against Stephens County last Friday in Toccoa.
Down by 4 to the Indians with 20 seconds to go, Lowery hit a 3, followed by a steal by White County on the inbound pass. With the game on the line, senior J.R. Hurst hit a pair of free throws for the Warriors to ensure a 52-51 victory.
The close call against Stephens County served as a reality check for White County’s players after a big 15-point win against North Hall just three days earlier.
“I think we got a big head after beating North Hall like we did,” London said. “But that game against Stephens County got us back to reality real quick.”
Lowery hit a game-winning shot against Lumpkin County, also a 3-pointer, in the first game of the subregion schedule. Tied at 41, Lowery hit a 3 and White County kept the Indians from getting off a shot on their final trip down the court to secure victory.
Lowery doesn’t insist on getting the ball in his hands in clutch situations, but doesn’t back away from taking a game winning shot either.
“I don’t mind shooting the ball,” Lowery said. “I know that the other guys can shoot too if they get the chance.”
“Ashely is definitely our go-to guy,” London said.
Cole Segraves, a sophomore, has been a big inside presence defensively for the Warriors, according to Carroll, and is also shooting the ball well with around seven points per game. Hurst (9 points per game) and his young brother Eddie were also big additions to the program when they moved in this year from nearby White Creek Christian Academy.
Now, with only one game left on the regular season calendar, White County feels like it can control its fate, at least to some extent. That’s something this program hasn’t always been able to say.
“We’ve felt good about our team this season,” London said. “We’re mature, have good talent and play well together on the floor.”