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GHSA CLASS AA STATE TOURNAMENT, ELITE 8 PREVIEW: Indians one win from Final Four

Kenny Anderson and the Indians hope the long ride to Savannah is well worth the trip as Albany takes on Vidalia tonight at 8:30 p.m. with a spot in the Class AA Final Four on the line. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Kenny Anderson and the Indians hope the long ride to Savannah is well worth the trip as Albany takes on Vidalia tonight at 8:30 p.m. with a spot in the Class AA Final Four on the line. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

SAVANNAH — Albany High is storming into Savannah today to meet Vidalia in the Elite 8 round of the Class AA state playoffs, but even though the Indians have been blowing teams off the court in the playoffs, they know it could be different tonight.

“When you get here every team you play is going to be a good team and every team is going to come into the Elite 8 with confidence,’’ Albany High coach Archie Chatmon said. “We know that. We know this a real good team from Vidalia. They’ve got a terrific guard. He’s awesome. He’s the best guard we’ve faced. And they have size inside at 6-5 and a 6-6.’’

Want To Go or Follow Online?

WHO: Albany boys (25-2) vs. Vidalia (26-3).

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Savannah State.

LIVE UPDATES: Go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports

It could come down to a last-second shot, or a final defensive stop tonight at Savannah State, where the two state-ranked teams meet at 8:30 p.m.

It could come down to some roots in the Good Life City.

That’s where Albany’s Indians might just have an edge.

“We’re battle tested because we play here,’’ Chatmon said. “It’s been that way for years. We know by playing the teams here, the Monroes, the Doughertys and Westovers and Mitchell counties that it helps you in the playoffs. That’s why teams want to come here and play in our Christmas tournament, because they know basketball is good here. I hear that all the time from coaches.’’

Chatmon’s kids also played a brutal Region 1-AA schedule and tournament that tested just about everything. After Albany beat Thomasville for the title, Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said he thought Region 1-AA was toughest in the state.

Albany High is 25-2 and riding a 15-game winning streak into tonight’s game, and has won 19 of its last 20. But Vidalia (26-3), which won the Region 2-AA title and is ranked No. 7 in the state, will be the best opponent the Indians have faced since beating Thomasville, 44-39, to win the region title.

And to make things even more difficult for Albany is the fact Vidalia is about 90 miles from Savannah and is expecting a big crowd for tonight’s game. Chatmon is hoping the crowd won’t affect his kids, and he’s hoping all those games the Indians played in the Albany Civic Center will pay off when his team takes the big college court tonight.

“I hope that (Vidalia’s big crowd) won’t be a factor for us. It’s going to be somewhat of a home crowd for them,’’ Chatmon said. “At this stage, I don’t expect it to. We’ve played in hostile places all year. I’m hoping the games we played in the Civic Center will help us in this game. I said at the beginning of the year that one good thing about playing those games in the Civic Center would be it could help the teams from (our area) in the playoffs (when we’re playing in similarly big arenas).’’

The Indians, who are ranked No. 3 in the Class AA state poll, won their first two playoffs games by a combined 52 points, beating Appling County, 100-75, and then handling Bleckley County, 68-41, on Tuesday to reach the Elite 8.

Vidalia had a tougher road and needed two overtimes to beat Cook, the fourth seed from Region 1-AA, in the opening round of the playoffs. Vidalia then advanced to Savannah with a 65-58 win against Dodge County on Tuesday.

Devin Atkins, a 5-foot-7 guard who can shoot the lights out on any court, has led Vidalia all season and can easily drop 25 to 30 points on teams. He’s the guy Chatmon is most worried about.

Vidalia, meanwhile, will have to worry about Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce, who is arguably the best player in Southwest Georgia. Pierce has scored 52 points in two playoff games but has yet to play a complete game. He had 21 at halftime and finished with 23 against Appling County. He scored 29 before leaving with 2:30 left in the game against Bleckley County.

Pierce hasn’t been alone. Albany has had big moments from Larry Sanford, who has scored 32 points in two playoff games, Kenny Anderson, who is coming off an eight-point, eight-rebound game, and Tyrone Culbreth and Emmanul Byrd, who combined to grab 28 rebounds and block four shots against Bleckley.

Then there’s Chatmon’s defense, which has carried this team all year.

“We couldn’t get a shot off,’’ Bleckley County coach Clifford Kerbo said of the Indians’ defense against them. “They just suffocated us on defense.’’

That, too, is a by-product of playing tough teams in town all year — and that‘s the ingredient Chatmon hopes carries his team tonight.

“We’re battle-tested,’’ he said. “And (our kids) definitely have a confidence about them. At this level, you have to have it. You have to believe in yourself to get this far. They’ve grown in confidence, but so has every team in the state that has reached this point. When we descend on Savannah every team that’s there expects to win — and we’re included.’’