Early County coach Randy Isom's team is off to a 6-0 start after beating Calhoun County on Tuesday night in Blakely, and that has the Bobcats coach believing his team may be able to make a deep run in region and state this season.
BLAKELY -- Nobody brings them out like they do at Early County, where the pregame intro belongs in the NBA, complete with announcer Ross Roddy's big, booming voice rising above hard bouncing music that rocks a crowd -- a crowd that's already on its feet roaring about a Bobcats boys basketball team that may leave them with a lot more to shout about before this season's over with.
They were still shouting late Tuesday night after The Herald No. 5-ranked Bobcats hung on to beat Calhoun County, 78-67, to stay undefeated and stay on a road that may just lead this group of kids to Macon and the Final Four.
"I think if we can handle the glory, stay focused and stay humble, we can get to Macon,'' Early County coach Randy Isom said after the win. "I had a group (in 2005-06) that wasn't this talented that got to the Elite 8. We have to learn from this game.''
There was a lot to learn Tuesday.
Early blasted onto the court and ripped off a 19-0 lead before the Cougars knew what hit them. With 4:03 left in the first, Isom sent in his second team, but before the night was over he needed every player he could get to hold off Calhoun County, which stormed back and closed to within four points, before Early put the game away.
"The best part about it is we won,'' Isom said. "They were able to come through at the end.''
The Bobcats, ranked fifth in The Herald's Fab 5 poll, are still perfect -- still unbeaten at 6-0 after Tuesday, and still looking for a lot more.
Early, which was averaging 90.4 points per game coming into Tuesday, hadn't had a scare yet, and Isom thinks the wakeup call might help his kids go that much harder now.
"This will help us learn from our mistakes,'' said Darontay McCoy, who finished with 25 points to lead Early. "We need to stay focused. It got out of control (and Calhoun came back), but then we pulled together.''
It was McCoy who kept telling his teammates to hang in there and get it back.
"He kept telling us that in the huddle,'' said Bobcats guard Tracy Hallmon, who finished with 14 points, including six in the crucial stages of the fourth quarter. "We needed to get disciplined. This was the first time we've had a close game. We had to come together.''
After Calhoun star Vincent Powell's drive closed the gap to 59-55 with 6:28 left, Early jumped right back and bounced the lead up to seven when Hallmon hit a baseline drive to lift the Bobcats to a 65-57 lead.
Then later, Ladonis Yarbrough, who finished with 12 points, had a baseline move and came right back with a coast-to-coast drive to counter another Powell drive, and give Early a 71-62 lead with three minutes left. Calhoun (4-3) never got any closer than seven after that.
"They are a real experienced team,'' Calhoun coach Marcus Shaw said of Early. "They were prepared to come out at the beginning of the game, and we weren't. We got behind, but came back and it was a pretty good game in the second half.''
It was an inspirational game for Powell, who finished with 30 points before fouling out with 1:27 left.
"I think we were nervous at the beginning of the game,'' Powell said. "We were nervous because they had beaten us (already twice this season -- once in the season opener and once in a tournament). But we went to the locker room and everybody stepped up in the second half. We turned it up.''
That first-quarter explosion might have been too good, too comfortable.
"I hate to say this, but we might have gotten complacent,'' Isom said. "We stopped doing the things that we do, running and playing defense. We stopped playing defense and got into what I call a street ball game. We didn't make them play defense.
"We just have to go back to work in the gym. It's a great start, but we have to handle the glory -- handle the glory and stay humble.''
CALHOUN COUNTY GIRLS 68, EARLY COUNTY 42: Early County had already beaten Calhoun twice, but the Lady Cougars hit the court looking for some revenge Tuesday -- and they hit it hard.
Calhoun jumped out to a 24-7 first-quarter lead and never looked back to improve to 7-4 for the season while handing Early (5-1) its first loss.
Brandi Buie lead the with 30 points and Kelsey Anderson chipped in with 15. Early was led by Tynicia McCoy, who scored 23.
"It was trapping and hustling,'' Calhoun County coach Cornellius Walker said. "We didn't put pressure on them in our first two games against them. Teams don't like pressure.''
And then there was Buie, who seemed to hit every big shot on her way to a 30-point night.
"That's normal for her,'' Walker said. "She scores 30 all the time.''
Buie said she wasn't the difference.
"The difference was (my) teammates stepping up,'' she said. "I could have played better.''