Albany High’s Emmanul Byrd and the Indians are off to a great start to the season at 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Fab 5 Poll. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Pressure?
Not much. Just showdown after showdown in December — with a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.
The game everyone was waiting for — Herald No. 1 Monroe vs. No. 2 Albany — won’t take place tonight at the Albany Civic Center in the championship game of the U Save It Pharmacy Boys Basketball Tournament after No. 3 Westover upset Monroe on Monday night, 61-50, in the semifinals at Albany High.
Monroe had been No. 1 all season after the Tornadoes stayed perfect with two big wins recently, knocking off Class AAAAA Colquitt County, 48-38, in front of Georgia coach Mark Fox, then ripping one-loss Mitchell County, 68-41, in the opening round of the U Save It on Saturday. But the Tornadoes’ bitter city rivals ended that run Monday night and now will face Albany — The Herald’s new No. 1 team — in the U Save It finals tonight at the Albany Civic Center.
Albany High had no trouble staying unbeaten and making the showdown possible. The Indians jumped out to a big lead early against Mitchell County in Camilla on Friday and beat the Eagles, 46-34, then opened the U Save it with an impressive 69-52 win against Class A power Terrell County as Tim Pierce had his second 30-point night in three games. Pierce put up 32 last week against Westover and dropped 30 on Terrell County.
He scored 15 points against Dougherty on Monday night in the U Save It semis to help the Indians beat the Trojans, 59-40, to advance to tonight’s title game against new Herald No. 2 Westover as two of the top teams in Southwest Georgia face off in a big-time setting at the Civic Center.
Westover’s boys move to No. 2 in the poll after ripping Southeast Bulloch, 68-25, in the opening round of the U Save It then beating No. 1 Monroe on Monday night. The Patriots will play Monroe at least two more times in the regular season and possibly in the Region 1-AAA tournament.
No. 4 Bainbridge had an easy time beating up on a couple of Florida teams in the Georgia-Florida Shootout to improve to 5-2. The Bearcats took care of Malone (Fla.), 73-47, on Firday, and then beat two-time defending Florida state champ Rickards, 74-48, on Saturday.
No. 5 Early County stayed perfect at 7-0 with two more a big wins. The Bobcats jumped out to a 19-0 lead on rival Calhoun County, and then hung to win 78-67. Understanding the Bobcats need to play all four quarters, coach Randy Isom had a long talk with his guys and they responded in their next game with a 91-38 romp against Berrien in their Region 1-AA opener.
The girls poll saw No. 1 Westover take the week off. The 10-0 Lady Patriots won’t play against until January, but No. 2 Dougherty is busy in holiday tournaments. The Lady Trojans routed Southeast Macon, 52-32, on Saturday to open the Great Southern Shootout in Macon and start the week at 5-1.
No. 3 Americus-Sumter, which started the season 7-0, finally lost a game, falling to Class AAAAA Tift County, 61-57, on Saturday. But the Lady Panthers stay at No. 3 in the poll after beating previously No. 5 Lee County, 65-61, on Monday night in the Americus-Sumter Holiday Classic.
No. 4 Pelham kept its winning streak alive at seven in a row with a 41-34 win against Webster and doesn’t play again until Dec. 29 when the Lady Hornets face Class AAAAA Coffee in the Tift County Tournament.
The poll did have one wrinkle this week as the Calhoun County girls make their debut after a big win against a previously unbeaten Early County team at Blakely. After suffering two of their three early season losses to the Lady Bobcats, the Lady Cougars got revenge on Early County in a big way, 68-42, to improve to 6-3.
Brandi Buie, who is just a sophomore, poured in 30 points in the win against Early and has emerged as one of the top players in the area for second-year coach Cornelius Walker’s Lady Cougars.
“What she’s doing this year is what she did for much of her freshman year, too, only not she’s doing it night in and night out,” Walker said Thursday. “She’s scored 34 once this year and she’s averaging right around 30 points (through our nine games) so far. The sky is really the limit for her.”
Walker added that when he found out his team had made the Fab 5 Poll, he immediately started texting and calling his girls, who were beyond excited.
“They’re very happy. Just before the (holiday) break, I was showing them (The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll) and using it as motivation, and now here we are,” he said. “We just have to keep pushing (to make sure we stay in it).”
Calhoun’s girls are off for the rest of December, but will return to the court Jan. 6 against Quitman County on the road.