Early County coach Randy Isom
QUITMAN — Darontay McCoy promised that Early County would come out strong in Friday’s Region 1-AA consolation game against Cook.
But strong doesn’t even begin to describe the way the Bobcats hit the floor at the Brooks County gym, where they beat Cook, 45-42, to grab the No. 3 seed as they head to next week’s state tournament.
They had to hang on at the end, but what a start it was for Early.
Early County made its first four shots, shot out to a 12-0 lead and kept coming, forcing nine first-quarter turnovers and running out to a 22-5 lead. But no team is as patient as Cook, and behind an incredible effort from 6-foot-7 Jerome Hill, the Hornets staged a staggering run of their own and went to halftime leading, 28-23. Jacori Taylor’s free throw was the only point Early scored in the second quarter
“We played our game at the beginning of the game,’’ said Early County coach Randy Isom, who loves to run. “We started out doing our thing, but then we backed off. We thought Cook was going to quit, and we kind of put it on cruise control instead of putting our foot to the floor.’’
Then Isom’s kids did one of the hardest things in sports — they regrouped after losing a big lead and took care of business down the stretch against a Cook team that milks the clock as well as any team in Georgia.
“They pass the ball 1,000 times and really slow the game down,” Isom said. “They play that disciplined offense, and we got out of what we do best, and we weren’t running our offense. We were settling for shots instead of running our offense. Then we started running our offense and getting good looks and were able to come back.’’
McCoy, who finished with a team-high 13 points in the low-scoring game, said Early just needed to refocus.
“I think some of the guys were getting frustrated,’’ he said. “But we knew we had to settle down and get the lead back.’’
Taylor, who was playing in just his second game after recovering from a knee injury, had a big game, banging inside for 11 points and seven rebounds. Taylor, at 6-2, is Early’s post player for a team that has four guards and a quarterback (Taylor was the Bobcats’ electric QB last fall).
“I feel a lot better now that we’ve got our big man back,’’ said McCoy, who grabbed seven rebounds himself. “We needed to win to get the third seed, but the way I feel is that we are a No. 1, no matter who we play.’’
It wasn’t easy.
Cook took a 38-36 lead into the fourth, and it was tense until the end as the game slowed down to a crawl and points were almost impossible to find. Cook went up 40-37 on Shue Mills’ short jumper. Then Early stormed back to seize the lead. Davontay George hit a reverse drive to close to 40-39, and Ladonis Yarbrough, who hit two 3s to spark the first quarter run, made a cat-like baseline move to lift Early to a 41-40 lead with 5:30 left.
Cook (18-7) called a timeout, and Cook coach Tommy Blackshear and Hill got into an altercation on the bench. Blackshear then sent Hill to the locker room. Hill, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, got dressed and watched the rest of the game from the stands.
With a one-point lead, Early ran the clock down, spreading the floor and taking only wide open shots under the basket. Taylor and Tracy Hallmon each hit shots to give Early a 45-40 lead before Cook hit a shot at the buzzer.
“It felt great to get the lead,’’ Yarbrough said. “It just felt good to make a basket. We got the lead and just pulled the ball out and won the game.’’
Now for the next chapter.
Early County (21-6), ranked No. 2 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll, will meet the Region 4, No. 2 seed next Saturday on the road.
“We’ve just got to go out and play,’’ Isom said of the Bobcats’ state road. “We just want to go play hard and show people what we’re capable of doing.’’
AHS girls rebound from 1-AA semis loss, beat Cook to secure No. 3 seed at state
QUITMAN — Did you hear that bounce?
That was Albany High’s girls basketball team coming back from a tough semifinal loss to Thomasville on Thursday to beat Cook, 37-30, in the Region 1-AA consolation game Friday that nailed down the No. 3 seed in the state tournament.
The Squaws open Friday on the road against the No. 2 seed out of Region 2-A, which plays its finals tonight. A loss to Cook would have sent Albany High against a No. 1 seed on the road.
“We wanted to get the third seed and not have to play a No. 1 at their place,’’ said Herald Super 6er Chasity Mullins, who led the Squaws with 13 points. “It’s sad we lost to Thomasville (46-43 in the semifinals). I blame myself. I could have done more to help us win. That loss was a big disappointment, but it’s good we came back and won (against Cook).”
Albany (12-11) wrestled the game away from the Lady Hornets (12-13) in the fourth quarter by simply out-hustling Cook at both ends of the court. After a 15-15 halftime deadlock, Albany took a 23-22 lead into the fourth and then forced 10 fourth-quarter turnovers to put the game in its hands.
The Squaws opened with an 8-2 run as LaDaisha Green, who scored seven points, scored on two inside baskets, then converted an and-one play, and Mullins made a steal and a drive to lift Albany to a 33-24 lead. The Squaws maintained the nine-point lead until Cook hit a shot at the buzzer. Briana Washington added six points for the Squaws in the win.
“I think they wanted to come back from what happened (against Thomasville). There were definitely a lot of girls who felt they should have done better in that game,’’ Albany High coach Telly Turner said. “They didn’t want to be the fourth seed in the region.
“You can’t ask for anything better than a win. It will give us momentum heading into the playoffs.’’