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Can anyone stop the red-hot Bearcats?

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

BAINBRIDGE -- The question posed to Bainbridge boys basketball coach Rickey McCullough, who's been walking the sidelines for one team or another for the last 35 years now, was as simple as it was complex: Can anyone stop you right now?

"Well," McCullough paused for a few seconds, before slowly adding, "I don't think we have that mentality right now. I guess I really don't know how to explain it. Because it doesn't always look good -- but they get the job done. I've said it before and I'll say it again: In all my years of coaching, this is just such a unique team."

Unique like Elite Eight, unique? Like 19 wins in a row, unique? Like arguably the hottest team in Georgia, unique?

"That's how I feel," said Bearcats leading scorer Devon Baulkmon, whose Region 1, No. 1 seeded team will face a 23-7 Glenn Hills (Region 3, No. 2) team today in the GHSA Class AAAA Elite Eight at Fort Valley State with a trip to next week's Final Four on the line. "We play to win. And I feel another one coming on."

To do that, however, the Region 1-AAAA champion Bearcats will have to take down a Glenn Hills team that features star senior Terrell Fitts -- a South Carolina State football recruit -- and floor general Ron Myers, who has led them to wins in seven of the Trojans' last eight games. Glenn Hills won the state title two years ago, but that was under a different head coach. The Trojans are now coached by Travis McCrae, who was an assistant on that championship team.

"We've seen tape. We've got the scouting report. They're very athletic and they're going to run. They're an up-tempo, pressure-bunch," said McCullough, who has reached three Final Fours in his coaching career, but has yet to win a state title. "They beat a Stockbridge team (in the Sweet 16, 72-63) that we played last year and that was really good -- and (Stockbridge) had everyone coming back. So we know they're a formidable foe.

"But I think we have a good chance."

So does Baulkmon.

Outside of Joshua Lewis' monster 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead Dougherty to a huge upset of previous one-loss Liberty County on Tuesday night, no one has played hero more for their team in these playoffs than Baulkmon.

With his team clawing and scratching at home Tuesday night to hang on to a slim lead against Evans, Augusta, Baulkmon simply took over.

He finished the game with 33 points, scoring 20 in the fourth quarter alone.

"We just want it so bad," said the 6-foot-5 junior on Thursday afternoon. "We get after it and we hustle -- in practice, in games. It don't matter."

Baulkmon is averaging 21 points a game and was the one guy McCullough said he knew -- coming into a season the coach thought this might be a rebuilding year after losing most of last year's stars to graduation -- would have an immediate impact.

"Devon had a great summer and the kids knew he was going to be our scorer. We can put him at any position on the floor and he just takes over," said McCullough, whose team went 27-4 last season and reached the Final Four before losing to Tucker, 72-66. "But the biggest difference between last year and this year is our toughness. This group -- a bunch of them are football players, and you know you have to be tough to play for (coach Ed) Pilcher -- is just so tough. They work hard in practice. They work hard in the weight room. They just work hard."

And down the stretch it's showing.

Bainbridge (26-4) hasn't lost in 2010 and is currently one win away from matching last year's win total.

From Rohan Gaines -- the team's quarterback, who McCullough calls the "glue" that holds the Bearcats together -- to Justin Harris (another footballer) and point guard Jeremy Harper, Bainbridge's starters have gotten them to this point. But after the loss for the rest of the season of DeVario Thomas (wrist), other folks had to step up.

Enter Rodney Glenn and Shawn Samuels.

"It hurt when DeVario went down," Baulkmon said. "But we got a lot of guys who have come in and taken charge. We needed that."

What the Bearcats don't need, however, is to be overconfident coming into today's all-important matchup.

Luckily, said McCullough, that's not an issue.

"As much as we get on their butts every day in practice," the coach began, "they probably leave the gym each night thinking they can't do nothing right."

McCullough says he hasn't planned out a final pre-game speech before the Bearcats take the court tonight, though he knows when he makes it, there will be four constants.

"I'll just tell them that as long as they share the basketball, play defense and rebound, we have a pretty darn good chance to win," he said. "And I'll remind them again to go out and be the hardest working basketball team in all of Southwest Georgia."

While Bainbridge fans will be out in force tonight in Fort Valley, it will likely be a pro-Glenn Hills crowd because the school's girls team is also playing in an Elite Eight game earlier in the night.

Baulkmon says he doesn't worry about things like that. He and the rest of his teammates plan to answer their coach's call and play like the hardest working team in Southwest Georgia. Even if it takes another 30-point game.

"Like I said before," Baulkmon began, "I feel another one coming on."