Mitchell’s Brian People’s, left, skies to the rim around Atkinson County’s defense Saturday afternoon in Camilla. Peoples scored five in the Eagles’ win. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
CAMILLA — Mitchell County assistant boys basketball coach Derex Woumnm has broken team huddles one of two ways this season: By either shouting, “Family!” or “We fight!”
The Eagles summoned both rally cries in Saturday’s 72-52 win against Atkinson County in the GHSA Class A State Tournament first-round game. Ten Mitchell County players scored and five had at least eight points in a true team effort that propelled the No. 1 seed Eagles into a second-round game. They will host No. 2 seed Claxton, which beat Greenville in another first-round game Saturday.
“We broke the huddle more (Saturday) with, ‘We fight!’ ” Woumnm said.
The Eagles (20-9) could have easily been breaking huddles by saying whatever they wanted to in the 20-point rout.
“I love the way our guys are playing together as a family,” Woumnm said. “They are playing great ball defensively, and (the second round) will be a good game all the way around.”
Jermain Hartsfield led Mitchell with 13 points, while Jaquan Williams (11), Bruce Bryant (9), Daron Hodges (8) and Diquan Isom (8) also had good games on the offensive end.
“We’ve got to pick for the all-region team next week, and we don’t have anyone who stands out,” head coach Kenneth Harris. “It’s a team effort.”
Mitchell County took a 31-24 lead into halftime, but Woumnm said he wasn’t exactly pleased with his team’s first-half play.
“We didn’t play Mitchell County basketball at times,” Woumnm said. “We stressed at halftime the importance of playing our style of basketball. You allow a team to hang around and they will find a way to beat you, so it was important to pick up the pace and pick up the tempo.”
The Eagles did exactly that in the second half, outscoring Atkinson County, 26-15, in the third quarter to take command of the game, which was moved ahead two hours at the request of Atkinson County.
The game was originally scheduled for 6 p.m., but for reasons unknown to the Mitchell County coaching staff, Atkinson County wanted to play the game at 2 p.m. Mitchell County initially refused the request, but the GHSA decided to halve the difference and sent Mitchell County a letter stating that the game would be played at 4 p.m. and the decision was “firm and non-negotiable.”
Woumnm said the change in the game time didn’t affect his kids at all.
“If anything, we used it as motivation,” he said.
EARLY COUNTY PULLS OFF AN UPSET: Early County’s Bobcats spent 4 1/2 hours on a bus, then walked into the Long County gym, stretched their legs and started running.
They didn’t stop until they had pulled off a 77-75 upset in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs Saturday night.
“We got off to a lead and we were wearing them out in the first quarter,’’ Early County coach Randy Isom said. “But we took our foot off the gas and kind of went into cruise control, and they came back in the fourth quarter.’’
Early County led almost the entire game, taking a 34-25 lead into halftime, and led, 55-50, after three quarters. But Long County (18-9), the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AA, stormed back in the final minutes to take a 75-74 lead.
But the Bobcats came right back and forced a turnover. Darontay McCoy made the steal and was on his way to a layup when he was fouled. He nailed two free throws and added another free throw in the final seconds to give Early the two-point victory.
McCoy finished with 26 points, Ladonis Yarbrough scored 16 and Jacori Taylor, who was playing in just his third game after returning from a knee injury, had 12 points and nine rebounds. Tracy Hallmon added 11 points for Early, which ended the regular season ranked No. 2 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll.
The Bobcats (23-6) will have to go back on the road Wednesday to face Morgan County (24-4), the No. 1 seed from Region 3-AA, in the Sweet 16 round.
“We played hard,’’ Isom said. “But we should have been up by more. We had about 10 or 12 traveling calls called on us under the basket, and all of those should have been two points.
“The kids really performed well. The kids were able to maintain their discipline enough to win it at the end. I’m really proud of them. It was great to get a first-round win on the road. Oh man, it was really great.’’
BAINBRIDGE RALLIES TO WIN: The Herald No. 4 Bainbridge boys team outscored Effingham County, 23-17, in the final quarter Saturday after trailing the entire game to advance to the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA State Tournament.
“We hit some shots down the stretch, and I think our kids were just tougher than theirs,” BHS coach Rickey McCullough said. “Once we took the lead late, you could see the frustration on their faces.”
No. 1 seed Bainbridge (23-5) will now travel to face No. 1 seed Alcovy (26-2) on Wednesday.
Dontavius Marshall led the Bearcats with 16 points, followed by 15 from Paul Chukes, 12 from Rodney Glenn and 10 from Trea Kelly.
PELHAM, CALHOUN LOSE: Lanier County has been one of the top-ranked Class A teams in the state all season and looked like a contender to win it all Saturday with a 58-41 opening-round win against Pelham, which was playing short-handed after an ankle injury to guard Roderick Williams in the Region 1-A tournament last week.
“(Williams) played and was about 70 percent,’’ said Pelham coach Laron Smith, whose team ran into a sold-out gym in the first round of the Class A state playoffs. “There were fans who came from Pelham who couldn’t get in the game, because the game was sold out.”
Lanier, 25-4 and ranked fifth in the Class A state poll, and took advantage of the big crowd and jumped out to a 20-6 first quarter lead, and then held off a big push by Pelham in the fourth quarter.
‘That first quarter did it,’’ Smith said. “They got up 20-6. We came back and closed it to 10 points three times in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to cut it to under 10 three times but turned it over three times.’’
Lanier is a big, physical and experienced team that has been state-ranked for the past three seasons.
“Those (Lanier) seniors know how to play,’’ Smith said. “They are relentless on the glass and relentless getting loose balls. It’s hard to match up with them.”
Pelham (13-16) was led by Jaquan Greene and Shadarious Williams, who scored nine points each, and Steve Mango, who had eight. Roderick Williams finished with seven points.
In other Class A State Tournament action Saturday, Calhoun’s lost to No. 8 state-ranked Turner County, although no final score or stats were available at The Herald’s press time.