Posted: Tuesday, March 5th 2013 at 1:14am
Opinion: Gainesville, Dawson Co. momentum more than capable in Macon
By Morgan Lee Editor
Dawson County's Allie Costley, left, defends a Southwest Macon player on Saturday in the Class AAA semifinals in Savannah.
Allow me a moment of waxing geriatric, but in all my years of covering high school sports I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a situation quite as unique as the opportunity awaiting two area basketball this weekend in Macon.
The Gainesville boys and Dawson County girls didn’t exactly come from nowhere -- both were expected to contend for honors in 2012-13. But contending is one thing and playing for it all is another. And in just over a decade of sports coverage I can count on one hand the number of teams I have seen undertake this kind of postseason success with relatively little previous playoff experience.
In fact, the current batch of Lady Tigers had exactly zero state history under their belts before this season, while the Red Elephants’ seniors had one prior appearance -- a first-round loss as sophomores in 2011.
That is perhaps the most astounding feature of what has been an incredible campaign for both squads.
Their saga is not unheard of -- Jefferson football’s ultimate success this past season shared many similarities -- but to watch two teams in the same sport, in the same coverage area find the kind of postseason magic that each has displayed over the past few weeks has been both exciting and awe-inspiring.
Both teams have displayed a dogged determination throughout each successive win, both willing themselves through each step while also discovering a level of success that had previously eluded them.
Gainesville has not only grown in confidence with each win, the Red Elephants have shown an incredible knack for making the key play at the key time -- from just about every player on the team. Whether it was Tray Harrison’s last-second lay-up in the semifinal victory, Jikeese Ruff’s two free throws in the quarterfinals, Shaquan Cantrell’s putback in round two or Deshaun Watson’s rebound and free throws in round one, Gainesville has found a way. There have also been huge contributions from Caleb Hayman, Chase England, Luke Moore, Luke Maddox and Reed Tipton.
Likewise, Dawson County has received game-changing contributions from a number of sources. Carly Gilreath and Sheyenne Seabolt have provided much of the offensive fireworks, leading the Lady Tigers in scoring in each round, but players such as Allie Costley, Kenna Seitz, Kacie Bearden, Ashley Parker, Hannah Porter and Karlie Bearden have provided a mixture of hard work and electricity. Just ask teammates about Porter’s three made free throws in the second round against North Oconee -- a sequence that gave Dawson County the lead for good -- or Karlie Bearden’s defensive work against Decatur in the quarterfinals.
In short, everyone on both teams is producing. And that is exactly what must happen in order for programs to find that extra gear and push into new or relatively unknown territory.
When it does happen, especially to teams with enough talent at their disposal, seemingly magic occurrences follow -- even against opponents with what is deemed “better” or “more” talent.
Certainly it doesn’t always pan out, but when a squad has built the kind of momentum that Gainesville and Dawson County now possess, it takes something extraordinary to stop it.
Gainesville -- which has not claimed a state title since back-to-back crowns in 1983-84 -- and Dawson County -- which has never won a GHSA crown -- will know well the size of the task ahead this weekend. The Red Elephants and Lady Tigers will know they must play their best games to have a chance against opponents that many around the state will pencil in as champs even prior to tip off.
They will also trust in their own abilities. They will also trust in momentum. They will also trust in each other.
As we have seen already this season, that has been a powerful combination. And those discounting it do so at their own risk.
Those of us lucky enough to be along the ride for this weekend can’t wait to see how it plays out in Macon. Frankly, the prep basketball campaign has already been a lot of fun and is just adding to what has already been a more than memorable high school sports season... and spring is also in the air.
-- Morgan Lee is sports editor for Access North Georgia.com
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