ALBANY -- Sometimes you've just got to believe.
That's what Archie Chatmon wants his kids at Albany High to embrace tonight when his Indians host Thomasville in Albany's biggest game of the season.
"It's huge,'' Chatmon said Thursday evening. "There's going to be so much movement in the league this weekend. We have so many teams fighting for the spots -- from first through fourth.''
Of course, Thomasville, which brought back most of its stars from last year's state runner-up team, is in first. The Bulldogs are 18-3 and ranked No. 3 in the state poll, and haven't lost a game in the Region 1-AA race. They're big, fast and they know how to win.
But Chatmon believes his kids can pull off the upset.
And why not? Albany played Thomasville close on Jan. 14 in Thomasville, where the Indians were still in the game until Trey Gosier and Robert Carter hit back-to-back 3s down the stretch to lift Thomasville to a 65-53 win.
Still, Albany has been playing better all season, and the Indians might be ready to climb the Thomasville mountain.
"We talk about it all the time,'' Chatmon said. "If you're a competitor, you dream of hitting the last shot at the buzzer when you're playing in the backyard. You never dream of making that shot against the last-place team. You always dream of making it against the best team or in the championship. The dream is to compete against the best and win.''
Chatmon's kids will face the best.
"We had a heck of a ballgame down there,'' Chatmon said. "We have to play at least at that level and a little better. We need that little oomph. That wasn't quite enough. We need to add a little to it to get over the top. I think we have it in us.''
With three games left, Albany is tied for second in the Region 1-AA race with Cook at 7-2, and Early County is at 5-4. Albany travels to Early County on Saturday, then ends its regular season Feb.. 12 against Brooks.
"We still would have an outside shot at first if we beat Thomasville and someone else beats Thomasville,'' Chatmon said.
But first things first.
The Bulldogs are loaded up front with 6-foot-7 Willie Clayton leading the way, and Carter creating problems at 6-8. Clayton is one of the top players in the state, and when the two big men aren't causing damage, Gosier -- a quicksilver point guard who is as smart and savvy as he is fast -- can beat you.
But Albany (11-8) has improved dramatically all year and is finding ways to win close games that got away a year ago.
"The difference is the mindset of the two guards (Tim Pierce and Larry Sanford),'' Chatmon said. "The ability has been there and the job description has been there since Day 1 for those two to score for us. But they shied away from it their first two years.''
Not any more.
Sanford and Pierce are both averaging right at 17 points a game, and both had career highs against Early County when Sanford scored 31 and Pierce dropped in 26 and pulled down 19 rebounds. It's like a light went on, and now Chatmon's guards are taking over games.
"We've come a long way,'' Chatmon said. "And it's because of the difference in the mindset of those guards. They know they have to do the scoring for us. We're scoring more points. We've always played good defense, but the last two years we were scoring about 50 to 52 points a game. This year we're scoring 58 points a game, and that's literally the difference (in us winning) this year. That's it.''
Chatmon uses two football players, Jontavious Morris and Roscoe Byrd, who play on both sides of the line in the fall and are co-captains for the football team, inside. Both are just 6-1, but they play hard and have given Albany its own identity. Chatmon calls them his "roly-polys,'' and he loves them.
"I'm asking them to get eight to nine rebounds a game,'' Chatmon said. "I know that's asking a lot of them. They give me everything they have. Against Thomasville what we need to do is knock down their offensive rebounds by about six or seven. Our three guards (Larry Anderson is the third guard) need to get down in there and get some rebounds. If two of them can get seven rebounds ... "
Chatmon knows it will take an inspiring effort, but he believes his team can do it no matter how well Thomasville plays.
"If you're a competitor, you don't want to beat them on an off-night,'' Chatmon said. "You want to beat them when they are playing their best. This is why I coach (for games like this). We have to have some confidence (after the game in Thomasville). They had to dig deep to beat us down at their place. Who knows if we get a couple of breaks down the stretch, we might win the game.''
Tonight's a different animal.
"We're hoping to have an attitude where we expect to win,'' Chatmon said. "We're not here to be close again.''