The area's five undefeated teams have the chance during the next ten days to separate from the pack by earning difficult wins in holiday tournament play and select match ups. Watching Westside lose its first game Friday reminded me how exceptional it is to go long stretches without losing. If the area's unbeaten squads want to exit 2015 without a blemish, they will have to earn it!
Laney's obstacle courseLaney's players will be smart to forget the idea of entering 2016 undefeated and concentrate on what is in front of them Monday at 5:30 at Glenn Hills: Cross Creek. After two weekend wins, one on the road in an emotional game versus region foe Westside, and the other in Atlanta against Mays Saturday, the Wildcats will have played five games in six days when the Richmond County Christmas tournament ends.
With the winner of Butler and Westside (Monday, 11:30 A.M.) waiting in the semifinal round, Laney's quarterfinal matchup against the Razorbacks, who should be looking for a chance to prove themselves after dropping their second game to Burke County Friday, could make for the classic "trap game" and derail the Wildcats and their holiday hopes right out of the gate.
If Laney does get past Cross Creek, coach Shawn Parks's team will face either Westside or Butler, both dangerous region rivals. And if the Wildcats advance to Wednesday's final, they will face another of the county's best teams. It seems highly unlikely any team could complete the five-wins-in-six-days romp through such a difficult group of teams. But Laney has been conquering difficult obstacles all season. Here is the latest example...
Will an undefeated Thomson team be waiting for Laney?
Whether or not Laney is fortunate enough to escape its Christmas tournament unscathed, Thomson will come knocking December 29th for the teams' highly anticipated showdown at Laney. Thomson also aims to preserve its unbeaten streak this week against a deep field in North Augusta's Christmas tournament. The Bulldogs face South Aiken in Monday's quarterfinal round. Also participating are North Augusta, Jones County, Strom Thurmond, Aiken, Grovetown, and Barnwell.
Thomson earned a double digit victory Friday over class A power Hancock. The Bulldogs feature one of our area's very best players, 6'8" senior transfer San Antonio Brinson. I have not seen the Bulldogs play yet, but the video clips coming out of Thomson paint an imposing picture of a team that is capable of making its date with Laney as an undefeated team, having sprinted through three wins at North Augusta this week.
Lincoln County visits Evans with streak on the line
The red hot Red Devils enter their non-region contest at Evans Monday short a player, point guard Maciah Gunby. But coach Wes Wuchte's unbeaten team has plenty of momentum after hard fought wins over Josey and Lakeside last week, and a pair of wins in its four team Christmas tournament this weekend.
Evans is coming off a dramatic win at Aquinas Friday. Senior Joel Grant made two free throws late to clinch the road win. Wuchte played for Evans's coach Kevin Kenny, who I know wants no part in extending his former player's winning streak.
The Red Devils will be back at Evans one week later to face Grovetown in the quarterfinal round of a post-Christmas tournament. 6'7" center Ahmad Rand is unlike any player I've seen in the area this season. He blocks shots like college and pro centers do: in the air when the ball has long left the shooter's hands. This helps Rand avoid foul trouble. He only fouled once while blocking 11 shots in this win at Lakeside:
Grovetown's Lady Warriors have dominated Georgia's teams. Are South Carolina's the next to fall?
I have yet to see the Lady Warriors live, but that will change when the region 5A power takes on South Aiken Monday in the quarterfinal round of North Augusta's Christmas tournament. Grovetown has won its first nine games, all by a margin of 10 or more points. The team's path to a possible 12-0 start may include North Augusta and Aiken this week. I'm excited to see junior transfer Destiny Marshall, sharpshooter Elizabeth Mettress (also a junior), and the rest of this talented group for the first time.
Westminster's resume speaks volumes
The only unbeaten team that will not be in action over the holidays is Westminster. I'll share a couple tidbits in case anybody doubts the private school power's resume.
Playing without a key starter, Michael Dukes, the Wildcats lost a close preseason scrimmage game to Blythewood, a 4A public school from South Carolina. Blythewood just whipped South Carolina powerhouse Keenan High in the famous Chick Fila Classic in Columbia. And the Wildcats' regular season wins include one over Daniel High, a 3A South Carolina public school on a neutral floor, and a road win at rival Augusta Prep.
Westminster is the real deal. International transfer Jelani Watson-Gayle has ignited a fire in a group of battle tested veterans like senior Nygel Eaddy, whom I call Reggie Bush because of his exploits on the football field.
Coach Mark Tebbs's team certainly has its share of tests ahead. But first he and his players will get a chance to enjoy the holidays. And to enjoy some holiday tournament action involving their undefeated peers.