MACON -- About two hours after the Deerfield boys basketball team won its GISA Class AAA State Tournament opener against Westminster, 72-50, on Thursday, The Herald caught up with Knights coach Gordy Gruhl as he walked out of the gym while scouting Saturday's Elite 8 opponent, Mt. Vernon.
"They were winning big when I left. But I'd seen enough," Gruhl replied when asked if Mount Vernon had, indeed, advanced to the next round and set up a Saturday showdown at 1 p.m. with Deerfield at Georgia Southwestern. "They're awfully good. -- and we'll be the underdog, for sure."
Mount Vernon, the No. 1 team in AAA all season which lost in the state semis last year to Tattnall, avenged that loss to the Trojans in the first round Thursday to set up Saturday's duel with Deerfield -- a game that will be a rematch of a lopsided 61-32 Knights defeat earlier this season. That loss came in DWS' third game of the year as the Knights struggled to get in the groove early after many of its starters joined the team late due to football season running long and ending with a state title.
After that loss to Mt. Vernon, Deerfield (20-4) then won 18 of its next 19 games before falling in a Region 3-AAA finals stunner to Westfield, 53-50, last Saturday that killed the Knights' chances of a No. 1 seed and possible finals showdown with Mt. Vernon -- rather than the second round.
"We have nobody to blame but ourselves," Gruhl said of such a big game happening so early in the tournament, rather than later. "You have to go through everybody at some point (to win state), and the chances were we would've seen Mt. Vernon at some point. As it turns out, we get them in the second (round). It is what it is."
Banks Kinslow led the Knights Thursday with 22 points, while Ramello Carter and Tyrone Culbreth each added 14 and Pete Langstaff scored 11. Gruhl said the Knights looked like a different team than the one that was shocked by Westfield in the region championship -- but it took some time Thursday to get going.
"We were down, 9-4, at the end of the first quarter and went 1-for-10 from the field, then we scored 30 in the second and 28 in the third," he said. "Then we started playing hard, some nerves subsided and our defense really stepped up. It was nice to open with a comfortable win (considering what we're facing next)."
Gruhl hopes the close proximity of the game at GSW helps Deerfield's chances Saturday, but admitted that regardless of where the game is played, "we have to do something" to slow Mount Vernon down.
"They're a veteran team, and we're quite a bit younger than other years," Gruhl said of the matchup. "And a lot of the things we do well, they cover well, so we'll have to make some adjustments."
The longtime Knights coach then added: "I probably won't sleep a lot the next two days trying to get ready for this game. It's been awhile since we've been an underdog like this, and it's kind of fun being in that role. Now, we just have to go out and try and pull the upset."
WESTWOOD BOYS ADVANCE TO CLASS A ELITE 8:
TIFTON -- The Westwood boys basketball team would like a Class A state title to match the one they won two months ago in football.
"Why not?" second-year Wildcats coach Al Timmerman said Thursday after his team rolled in the first round of the GISA Class A State Tournament, 59-41, against Solid Rock. "That wouldn't bother me a bit."
Mason Jones led with 16 points, while one of the heroes from the Wildcats' football crown, RB Jake Edore, added 12.
The win advances Westwood to a Saturday showdown in Tifton against the winner of Thursday's late Sweet 16 matchup between Thomas Jefferson and Providence.
SHERWOOD BOYS STUNNED BY PINEWOOD IN CLASS AAA:
Less than a week after getting shocked in the region semis by Westfield, the Sherwood boys were stunned again Thursday in the first round of the GISA Class AAA state tourney, this time by Pinewood, which came into the game at 15-10 overall -- and a huge underdog to the previously three-loss Eagles, who finish their first season under new coach Gavin Felix at 21-4.
"We just got outplayed and we had an off night," said Felix, who led the Eagles to their best season in school history and a 13-0 start before losing the first of two games to Deerfield. "Those two things can't happen at any point in state."
Rashard Davis finished with a game-high 22 points, followed by 16 from Terrance Burnette. Leading scorer Gary Holloway returned from suspension, but didn't crack double figures in the loss.
SCA loses five seniors: Holloway, Burnette, Jaleel Horry, Colby Gilliam and Cass Stutz, but Felix sees bright things for the program.
"We had a great year," he said. "I'm definitely excited about the future."