ALBANY -- Gordy Gruhl didn't send kisses or a valentine, but he did say thanks.
And he meant it.
Gruhl's Deerfield boys basketball team had just taken care of Southland, 59-29, on Thursday night at Darton in the GISA Region 3-AAA semifinals -- a win that sends the Knights into Saturday's 6:30 p.m. final against Westfield.
That's when Gruhl mentioned a newspaper story in the Americus Times-Recorder that quoted Southland coach Ernest Scott saying he thought the Southland kids were better athletes.
Scott was quoted as saying: "I think we have a better team. I think we have better athletes in all areas of the game, and when you're matching their five against our five, I think it's just a mental block when Deerfield is mentioned.''
Scott might have been trying to motivate his team.
He succeeded in motivating Deerfield.
"We can always count on coach Scott to give us a motivational speech,'' Gruhl said. "We had been a little flat in practice this week, but after I read to the players what he said in the Americus Times-Recorder (Thursday before the game), I didn't have to say much -- hardly anything at all.
"He thinks they have five better athletes. I thought we had five better basketball players.''
Gruhl's kids made their point -- early and often -- running away from
the Raiders with a 16-1 sprint in the second quarter that lifted the Knights to a 30-10 lead. And they never slowed down.
DWS led just 14-6 at the end of the first quarter, but Gruhl made a couple of quick adjustments and Deerfield was running like a deer. The Knights made four steals in the second quarter and cashed them in for eight fast-break points during a 12-0 run.
The Knights have been running a while. They've now won 16 in a row and face Westfield for the region title with a 19-3 record after a slow start because half the team played for the state title football team.
"I've got the story (from the Americus Times-Recorder) right here on my phone,'' said Deerfield point guard Banks Kinslow, who was the quarterback for the Knights' 13-0 state champs. "(Coach Gruhl) didn't have to say much (after showing us the story in the paper). We were ready to play. You've got to be ready this time of year.''
It showed. Deerfield's kids simply took the game to Southland.
"What can you say?" Scott said after the loss. "They've got a great team. They get after it. You have to match their intensity. If you don't, you won't be in the ball game -- and we didn't.''
Kinslow and guard Ramello Carter led the charge, scoring 13 points each, but the biggest man for DWS was center Tyrone Culbreth, who made the adjustment to Southland's triangle-and-two defensive scheme, then made the Raiders pay all night. He finished early with 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots.
"He was a monster,'' said Gruhl, who quickly made the change when he saw Southland's triangle. "We've been anticipating some teams playing a gimmick defense. They ran a triangle-and-two and we had to adjust to it. Tyrone had a huge night.''
Culbreth knows why.
"I was motivated (by the newspaper story) and I was also just motivated to win the game,'' Culbreth said. "I just wanted to win. But (the story) did (motivate me).''
Culbreth, a sophomore dominated inside, but then again DWS has been rolling by teams since the streak began, and seems to be getting better and better now that the postseason is here.
"We're playing great together,'' said Culbreth, who appeared to be pretty darn athletic on some of his blocked shots and all of his rebounds. He flew to the ceiling on one blocked shot that was ruled goal-tending after the ball slammed off the backboard. Still, Culbreth wasn't taking any bows -- just giving a pat on the back to his teammates.
"We've got great chemistry and we're playing real well together,'' he said.
That was obvious in the rout. Next up is Westfield in the title game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and a chance for DWS to capture its seventh consecutive region crown and win a No. 1 seed next week when the Knights take the first steps to defending their state title.
Southland (13-10), which was led by Jose Hernandez's 13 points, meets Sherwood Christian at Darton in the consolation game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"We've beaten Westfield twice,'' Kinslow said. "But you know they are going to come out fighting. They will be swinging from the gate.''