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State-ranked Thomasville can't stop Herald No. 5 Early County boys

Early County's Darontay McCoy scored a game-high 29 points in Tuesday's huge win against state-ranked Thomasville.

Early County's Darontay McCoy scored a game-high 29 points in Tuesday's huge win against state-ranked Thomasville.

BLAKELY — Yes, Early County’s Darontay McCoy’s right hand is straight. Nothing fancy. It looks and feels like anyone’s right hand. He can hold it up, and you would swear it’s normal.

You would think it’s just a plain, old right hand.

Just don’t let McCoy get near the basket with that magical, unpredictable right hand — four fingers and a thumb that twirl and twist and can turn a basketball and a basketball game around as well as anyone in Southwest Georgia.

Just ask Thomasville, the state powerhouse that has owned the Region 1-AA race like no one else for the last three years, and a team that started the season ranked No. 2 in the coaches Class AA state boys basketball poll.

Yep, that Thomasville — the one that fell to Early County, 67-61, on Tuesday night in a game that sent tremors through the Region 1-AA race.

That Thomasville.

That’s the one McCoy twisted inside-out Tuesday night, spinning and turning and driving right by the Bulldogs with a 29-point night that hit its apex in the fourth quarter when McCoy went on a personal nine-point run, hitting four spectacular reverse drives that left the Bulldogs in his wake and left a packed house at the Early gym on its feet.

“I have to do whatever it takes to win,’’ said McCoy, who has averaged almost 31 points over his last four games. “I knew I had to step up. I stepped up because my team needed me.’’

And Early County, ranked No. 5 in The Herald Fab 5 poll, has taken another step in proving it has one of the best Class AA teams in Georgia. The Bobcats are 10-1 and 2-0 in the Region 1-AA race, and their only loss was a controversial mess in overtime in a holiday tournament in Florida.

McCoy scored 96 points in three games in that tournament then dropped in 29 to start the New Year — a year that might belong to the Bobcats.

“He has God-given ability,’’ said Early County coach Randy Isom of McCoy, who is just a junior. “He’s been blessed athletically. The thing now is that he is learning to elevate his game mentally. He‘s a game-changer. He can take over a game. That’s what he did.’’

The entire Early County team, a group that’s at its best when the pace is fast and furious, picked up the tempo down the stretch and forced eight turnovers down the stretch.

“The difference was they were more aggressive than we were at the end of the game,’’ Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said. “The referees let them be aggressive, but that’s part of the game. You have to play for 32 minutes.’’

The Bulldogs, ranked eighth in the latest state poll, looked like they had this one.

They were leading Early County by 10 — 48-38 — with 6:30 left in the game. The Bulldogs were pounding inside, killing Early on the boards, and it looked like the same old story — the one that ends with Thomasville dominating the region.

Then Early took over.

It started with Ladonis Yarbrough stepping up and stepping back, just outside the arc, to bust three 3s in a row that sparked the Bobcats and McCoy, who went 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter and grabbed four of his eight rebounds in the eight minutes.

Yarbrough (14 points) and McCoy (13) combined to score 27 of Early County’s 32 fourth-quarter points for a Bobcats team that entered the fourth trailing, 42-35. They combined to score 13 points on a 13-1 run that lifted Early to a 50-49 lead when McCoy dropped in a free throw to complete an and-one play with 3:49 left. Then they scored the next nine points as Early built the lead to 60-53.

“We just had to catch fire,’’ said Yarbrough, who hit five 3s for the night and finished with 24 points. “We had to do it. I’ve never beaten them since I‘ve been here, and we had to beat them. We had to do it. It feels great to beat them.’’

Maybe even better than that.

“Beating them … It feels like we’re on top of the world,’’ said Tracy Hallmon, who hit five of six free throws in the final minutes to finish with nine points and help ice this one away.’

It was more than a win.

“It means we sent a message,’’ McCoy said. “We feel like we can beat anybody after beating them and the best big man (Willie Clayton) in Georgia.’’

What is even more impressive is that Early County beat the state power and much taller Bulldogs without its big man, Jacori Taylor, who was out with a knee injury. Clayton, who at 6-foot-8 towered over Early County, ran into foul trouble early, and finished the game with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Greg Wimberly, a 6-6 senior, had his moments and finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. He had four dunks, and also hit a 3-pointer.

But it wasn’t enough to stop Early, which just kept coming.

“For them to believe in each other and win without Jacori says volumes about what this team can accomplish in the future,’’ Isom said. “They picked each other up. They put it on each other and they stepped up.’’

Then Isom thought about what this win really meant.

“It’s very special,’’ he said. “I’m like the kids — I don‘t have words for it. For my kids to play at that level. It means they are starting to listen. It means they are starting to jell.’’

EARLY COUNTY GIRLS 69, THOMASVILLE 55: There might not be a better 1-2 punch in the Region 1-AA race than Early County’s tandem of Justice Lee and Tynicia McCoy, who knocked out Thomasville Tuesday night.

Lee put the final touches on a 29-point night with 13 points in the fourth quarter, and McCoy finished with 24 points as the two Lady Bobcats lit it up for a combined 53 points on a night when Thomasville scored 55.

“They have been our leading scorers all year,’’ Early County coach Mary Brown said. “Justice took control at the end of the game.’’

She did, and Early County has a chance to take control of the Region 1-AA race. The Lady Bobcats are off and running at 2-0 in region with a win against the defending region champs, and are 8-1 for the season. Thomasville (0-7, 0-1) was led by Danshia Jones, who scored 12 points.

The Lady Bobcats next play at home against Fitzgerald on Friday.