Kenny Anderson came up huge for the second night in a row for the Indians, who captured the Region 1-AA title Friday night in Quitman for the first time since 2005.
QUITMAN — Special, that’s what Archie Chatmon called them.
And it was in his voice and in his heart when he said the word — a word and feeling that came from a place that defines more than what this Albany High basketball team has meant to the school and community.
“They’re special,’’ said Chatmon, his voice breaking as he stood outside a locker room moments after his kids had beaten Thomasville, 44-39, to win the Region 1-A title late Friday night in front of a packed Brooks County high gym. “I got choked up when I was just talking to them. These seniors won’t go away empty-handed. We always felt this group of seniors was a special group. They have been special to this school since their first day on campus. And they are not going away empty.
“We’ve done some things in football and track & field, but this is a region championship, and this is theirs. That’s what I feel so good about right now.’’
It was an emotional win, a monumental win against a Thomasville program that had won the last three Region 1-AA titles and might just make a run at a state title. The only way Albany High can face the Bulldogs again would be in the Class AA state title game in Macon.
“Thank goodness,’’ said Chatmon with a huge smile.
It could happen.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see Albany (in Macon),’’ said Thomasville coach Ben Tillman. “That‘s a wonderful team. They hit some unbelievable shots. No. 24 (Kenny Anderson) hit two big shots for them down the stretch. That just shows the confidence Archie has in him. We wanted to stop their top players (Tim Pierce and Larry Sanford) from beating us. We wanted to make someone else beat us, and he stepped up and had a great game for them.’’
Anderson has been the forgotten starter most of the season as Pierce and Sanford have led the Indians to a 23-2 record, but Anderson had a monster game in Thursday’s semifinal win against Cook, leading Albany in rebounds with 10 (he’s a 5-10 guard) and making huge plays. He did it again Friday, leading the Indians with seven boards, and tossing in seven points, including a huge 3-pointer down the stretch. He also blocked a key shot and made two steals — back-to-back — in the final minute of the game, and ignited Albany at every turn. And it was Anderson who knocked down two free throws with 15.9 seconds left to lift Albany High to 40-34 lead that all but put the game away.
“You have heard of Linsanity in New York,’’ Chatmon said. “Well, it’s Ken-sanity at Albany High. He had another great game. He led us in rebounding and he made big shots and made big plays.’’
It was that kind of night for the Indians, who once again needed everything they could get from the two stars — Pierce and Sanford. They got it as both bagged 15 points. Sanford put Albany on his shoulders early, scoring 15 points in a little more than a half, and then Pierce, who was swamped by bigger defenders all night, finished strong, scoring 10 in the fourth quarter.
“What can you say about those two?” Chatmon asked. “They were going to make sure Tim didn‘t beat them, and Tim was patient, and he waited for the opportunity and made the most of his opportunities, and Larry made some big shots to get us going. We gutted it out. We withstood some kind of challenge.’’
The two teams split in the regular season, and they put on a show Friday as Thomasville raced off to lead early, only to be overtaken in the fourth quarter by the Indians, who never buckled in a game that was played under an avalanche of defense.
In the end, that’s where Chatmon’s kids won it.
Thomasville opened the game with a 3-pointer from Trey Gosier, who fouled out in the fourth quarter and finished with eight points, and held the lead until Roscoe Byrd, a bigger-than-life offensive lineman who is going to UAB on a football scholarship, hit a put-back with 20 seconds left in the third to lift the Indians to a 29-27 lead. Ty Mitchell answered at the buzzer to send the game into the fourth at 29-29.
The Bulldogs took a 32-29 lead with 7:00 left when Greg Wimberley — the same Greg Wimberly whose shot with 5.2 seconds left beat Albany High 37-36 at Darton — hit a turn-around jumper from 10 feet out. Wimberly finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Willie Clayton led Thomasville with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Then the Indians slammed the door.
Thomasville went more than six minutes without a point, and Albany ripped off an 8-0 run that included three drives by Pierce and a long shot by Anderson, who nailed his shot to make it 35-32, and then blocked a shot at the other end of the floor that started a fast break by Pierce, who dropped in a bucket for 37-32 lead.
“Our defense won it,’’ Chatmon said. “It’s been there for us all year. On the nights when we haven’t shot the ball well, our defense has always been there.’’
It may take Albany a long way. The Indians secured the No. 1 seed and will be at home to open the Class AA state tournament next Saturday. If they win they will be at home for the second game, and then it’s off to Savannah and possibly Macon.
That won‘t surprise Thomasville.
“I believe Region 1-AA is the best region in the state,’’ Tillman said. “There’s so much talent in all four teams that are going to the playoffs.’’
And one of them left Brooks County feeling special.