Everything is starting to come together for the Riverside Military Academy basketball team.
After struggling through the beginning of the post-winter break schedule — losing four straight games through the middle of January — Eagles coach Marvin Latham said things really started to click for the team in a 60-40 win over Commerce to close out the regular season.
“I was kind of confident at that point that our kids would go in and play well in the region tournament,” Latham said.
As it turned out, he was right.
Riverside Military tore through the Region 8-A tournament, blowing out Towns County in the finals to earn a bye in the first round of the Class A-private schools state playoffs.
Now, after a nine-day hiatus, the Eagles will be back in action today in a home playoff game against North Cobb Christian.
According to Latham, the team’s strong finish to the year will be crucial to its confidence entering the postseason.
“Going into the region tournament, I thought our guys were confident that they could win,” he said. “Winning it shows them that they can win if they do the things that we ask them to do.”
More important than that, however, Riverside Military’s region tournament victories gave the Eagles a blueprint of how to succeed in the playoffs.
It all comes down to execution in crunch time.
On multiple occasions in first and second-round games against Tallulah Falls and Athens Christian, a few clutch moments were all that stood between the Eagles and elimination.
“There were a couple times (late in games) that we had to execute offensively and get a good shot, get a good bucket, don’t turn the ball over,” Latham said. “I think that really helped us. I think it’s going to help us in this state tournament also. Games are not going to be blowouts. These teams that we are going to see now are going to be really good, and it’s going to be important that you are able to execute down the stretch.”
Today’s matchup against North Cobb Christian is no exception.
Latham’s game plan revolves around stopping North Cobb’s pair of dynamic threats in guard Kami Young — who has already topped 1,000 career points in just two years of high school — and 6-foot-9 forward Caleb Crumly, who presents a serious matchup problem for a comparatively outsized Riverside Military squad.
“They do have a couple players that are really, really good,” he said.
Scoring will obviously be important for both sides, but Latham said the game really comes down to who can execute better on the defensive side of the ball.
When the Eagles are at their best, they are chaining together stop after stop and taking advantage of scoring opportunities in transition.
“We’ve just got to get our stops in bunches and play who we are,” Latham said. “We’re going to press. We’re going to mix it up on them. We’re going to show some zone and then jump into man. We’re going to throw everything at them.”