Herald Super 6er and Monroe senior Jabari McGhee led the Tornadoes to the first wire-to-wire finish as the Herald’s No. 1 boys basketball team.
ALBANY — What a season in basketball.
The Monroe Tornadoes go wire to wire to become the first team in the five-year history of the Fab 5 Poll to claim the No. 1 spot every week, and Westover’s boys stayed ranked at No. 2 — right behind Monroe — throughout the entire regular season.
That’s never been done either.
There is no question who the top two boys teams are in Southwest Georgia. The bigger question is: How far can they go?
Monroe and Westover could meet again for a fourth time if both reach Friday’s Region 1-AAAA championship game at Monroe. Both teams open play in the semifinals on Thursday at Monroe, and both teams have already locked down berths in the Class AAAA state playoffs. The winner of the region will have a home-court advantage through the first three games of the playoffs and wouldn’t have to leave Albany until the Final Four.
If Monroe and Westover finish 1-2 in the region, the only way they could meet each other would be in the Class AAAA title game in Macon. Stay tuned ...
Deerfield-Windsor’s Knights, who are ranked No. 4 in the Fab 5, look like they are ready to make a run at another GISA Class AAA state title. They will host their own region tournament at Darton and won’t play until the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
DWS has won 14 in a row, and if the Knights shoot 3s at Darton the way they have shot them all season, look for another region title for Deerfield.
The Herald No. 3 Mitchell County Eagles might be in the Class A state title game. They have looked that good and that strong all season, and they enter the Region 1-A tournament as the No. 1 seed and ranked No. 2 in the state rankings.
The Eagles brought back a lot of pride last year to a program that was a powerhouse for years, and this year’s team is talented enough to bring back a state title. Mitchell’s young team lost a heartbreaker to powerhouse Lanier in the Elite 8 a year ago, and these kids know what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Mitchell County has lost just one game to a Class A team, and that was to Randolph-Clay early in the season. The Red Devils are seeded No. 3 in the region tournament but — thanks to the R-C girls — the semifinals and finals are at Randolph-Clay and there could be a showdown between R-C and Mitchell in Saturday night’s title game.
Seminole County, which is ranked fourth in the state rankings and No. 2 in the region, is also a threat to win the region. Mitchell needed overtime to beat Seminole in Donalsonville before beating the Indians in Camilla. Those two could meet in the semifinals on Thursday.
Randolph-Clay will have its hands full in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at Mitchell County, where the Red Devils face their rival Calhoun County. The two teams split games, winning at home, and both games came down to the final seconds. R-C barely hung on to beat Calhoun, 71-66, Saturday night in Cuthbert.
The boys Region 1-A tournament is arguably one of the best in the state — if not the best. Stewart County is ranked No. 14 in the state, and Terrell County is ranked No. 16. Those two meet in the quarterfinals to see who will survive at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Calhoun County needs to win its game against Randolph-Clay on Wednesday to have a chance to make the playoffs. The Cougars are ranked No. 19 in the state poll.
Pelham is the No. 5 team in the Fab 5 boys poll, but the Hornets are easily the No. 1 surprise team of the year.
They had to make the move from Class A to Class AA, and they were stuck in the same region as powerhouses Thomasville, Cook and Early. All Pelham did was go 12-0 against the region rivals and won the right to host this week’s Region 1-AA tournament.
Laron Smith’s young team (only one senior starts) shares the wealth when it comes to scoring (all five are averaging around 10 points a game) and have shared an incredible season. Pelham plays in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m., Thursday against the survivor of the Berrien-Baker County play-in game.
Randolph-Clay’s girls end the season as the No. 1 team in the Fab 5, and that could be a sign for a group that believes it can win the state title. Even the R-C Destiny Mitchell team from four years ago didn’t finish as the Herald’s No. 1 team. Bainbridge and Alexis Burke’s team was No. 1 that year. Burke and Mitchell shared the Herald’s Willie Boston Player of the Year award that year.
This R-C team has more balance and more weapons than any team at Randolph-Clay, and if the Lady Red Devils, who are ranked No. 1 in the Class A state power rankings, win the region tournament, they will be at home until the Final Four at Fort Valley State.
They’re at home all week and enter the postseason after winning 23 of their last 24 games and 13 in a row. They open at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday against the winner of the Baker County/Webster play-in game.
They took over the No. 1 spot in the Fab 5 Poll after beating Monroe, 56-54, on Jan. 5 and have not lost a game in 2013. Monroe had been ranked No. 1 until that loss. Randolph-Clay also beat state-ranked Carrollton in the Carrollton Christmas Tournament right after Carrollton had beaten Monroe.
The girls Fab 5 was probably the most competitive and richest in years as Monroe and Randolph-Clay shared the top spot and Pelham stayed on their heels all year while Dougherty’s girls, who lost three of their first five games, emerged as a powerhouse along with Ra’Keta Shelton, who emerged as one of the top players in Southwest Georgia, and Mitchell County made a statement again as one of the best teams in this part of the state.
Seminole County and Calhoun County both shared time in the Fab 5 along with Crisp County, Americus-Sumter and Westover, which could be a sleeper in the upcoming Class AAAA playoffs. The Lady Patriots face Americus-Sumter at 4 p.m., today at Crisp County in a do-or-die game in the Region 1-AAAA tournament. The loser goes home for the season. The winner advances to play in the semifinals, which guarantees a berth in the state playoffs.
Monroe’s girls are the top seed in the Region 1-AAAA tournament, and they will be at home (thanks to the boys’ 14-0 region record). No program in Southwest Georgia has improved as much in recent years as the one at Monroe. Cheeks’ first team in 2009 won four games, and her team went to the Elite 8 last year. This year’s team is the best she has had and is a threat to win it all.
The same can be said of Antonio Tookes, who took over a Pelham program three years ago and turned it into a powerhouse. Her kids went to the Class A Elite 8 last season and never blinked when they had to move from Class A to Class AA this season.
They went 11-1 in the region, splitting two games with state power Thomasville, which had won the region three of the previous four years. Pelham lost just three games all season, losing by one point to Thomasville, and in overtime to Monroe. They also lost to Class AAAAAA Colquitt County.
None of that matters today.
“I don’t care about the rankings,’’ Tookes said. “I just want to be holding up that state championship trophy at the end of the year.’’
She might get her chance.
First, there’s a region title at stake. The Lady Hornets open play at 7 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals against the winner of the Berrien/Fitzgerald game and will likely face Thomasville in the rubber match at 7 p.m., on Friday in the title game.
The Herald No. 4 Dougherty Lady Trojans may be the most dangerous team in the Fab 5 Poll. They hadn’t lost a game in 2013 until Westover upset Dougherty at Darton last Friday, but that game means nothing now.
The Lady Trojans have the best cousins act in SW Georgia with Shelton, who has risen to become one of the top players in this part of the state, and her cousin Quannesha Gatling, a gutsy and savvy point guard who plays with passion and heart. Dougherty coach Charlene Jackson is a master at getting the most out of her team and it’s going to be fun to see how far Dougherty can go in the playoffs.
Mitchell County’s girls end the season at No. 5 in the poll, but they are ranked No. 9 in the state rankings. They reached the Elite 8 last year and should make an even stronger run this year.