Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Come on, admit it. Nobody thought Dougherty would be here, not here in the Elite Eight, not here among the top AAA teams in Georgia.

The Trojans didn't even have a winning record when they opened the state tournament last week, and they had a losing record when they upset Crisp in the Region 1-AAA consolation game.

But as far as Dougherty is concerned, just keep your thoughts to yourself, because the Trojans are on their own path, winning their way.

"We just worry about Dougherty, and do what we do,'' said coach Donald Poole, whose team meets top-ranked LaGrange at 5:30 p.m. today at Columbus State for the right to go to the Final Four. Westover meets No. 2 ranked South Atlanta at 8:30 tonight at Columbus State, and if both win twice more, could possibly meet for the state title next week.

LaGrange is unbeaten (29-0), but Dougherty just knocked off Liberty County, which was 27-1 before the Trojans ended the Panthers' season Tuesday night.

Liberty County had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the state, and LaGrange may be No. 1 in the new Georgia Sportswriters poll, but the way Dougherty sees it, today is a new day.

"We look at the state tournament that everyone is 0-0. Everybody is starting over,'' Poole said. "I know a lot of people don't look at it that way, but that's the way we look at it.''

Nobody has started over better than the Trojans, who are now 14-12 after winning three in a row.

The secret to the magical run?

"We had an attitude adjustment. We had to get everybody on the same page,'' Poole said. "Sometimes you have to put your ego to the side. Once we started playing as a team things changed and we got better.''

Even when Dougherty was losing earlier in the year, Poole believed his team could be win.

"We knew we had the talent, but you are dealing with young people and you have to get them to the point where they realize if they do things together they will be successful,'' Poole said.

Dougherty has played in the shadow of Monroe and Westover all season. Westover is still alive, but LaGrange beat Monroe Wednesday, ending the Tornadoes season at 25-3. Playing in the shadow hasn't affected Dougherty.

"We look at it like we have to take care of our business,'' Poole said of Monroe and Westover. "We can't worry about those other teams. We worry about us. We have to be concerned about Dougherty.''

The Trojans are different.

"We don't have four or five superstars,'' Poole said. "But we have some hard-working kids. We're going to work hard and we're going to play hard.''

Poole's team does have stars, and he is getting production from more than just five players of late, including Macarthur Gaines, who has emerged as a scoring force inside to go along with Super 6er Arabian Williams, a quick-silver point guard who flashes up and down the court and hits 3s with the best of them.

During the regular season Dougherty played tough against seventh-ranked Monroe and fifth-ranked Westover. The Trojans almost played for the Region 1-AAA title. They led Monroe late in the semifinals of the Region 1-AAA tournament, before losing 55-51, so Poole knew his kids could compete with the ranked teams in town. Now he knows they can play with anybody.

They beat Eagles Landing, which lost to South Atlanta 48-46 in the Region 4-AAA final and started the tournament as a No. 2 seed, and Liberty County -- both on the road. The upset of Liberty County shocked every basketball fan in Georgia and came when freshman Josh Lewis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Dougherty to a 59-58 win.

"It's exciting. Everybody is excited around the school (and the community),'' said Poole, who saw LaGrange beat Monroe 45-44 on Wednesday.

"They're a good team,'' Poole said of LaGrange. "They're undefeated, and that tells you a lot. But we've been underdogs all year, from the beginning of the season.''

But now Poole's underdogs are pulling together, sharing the ball and the limelight -- and making an unforgettable run.

"We like to play basketball,'' Poole said. "We work hard, play hard and leave it all on the floor.''