Local teams get back to work
County sports teams get back into region competition
The holidays are officially done for the year. Speaking of years, it’s also a new one. And with a new year comes the bulk of the winter sports season for the three county high schools.
Newton girls 6-4 (2-1 Region 2-AAAAA), third place
Both Newton teams look to build on momentum from holiday tournament championships. The girls captured the Chuck Miller Holiday Classic in McDonough after defeating Heritage 60-54 in the final while the boys defeated Cedar Shoals to win the Wingslinger Holiday Bash at East Jackson.
The Lady Rams have been up and down over the first month of play. They won two straight to open region play before dropping their next two games only to rebound with their current three-game winning streak.
For Newton’s girls the second half will be about consistency. When they are at their best, the Lady Rams are getting offensive production from Qaiserah Shariff and at least one or two more players. Danyel Forney has been strong inside and the play of freshman Tori Pharr early in the season was a boost. Pharr has struggled lately and Newton’s guards Mikola Burks and Precious Price have been inconsistent.
Burks is Newton’s best shooter and is vital for the Lady Rams in breaking down the zones. Price is a slashing who can finish. Both players need to get more consistent on offense while improving their defense. At 2-1 in region play, Newton’s girls have a chance to make some headway over the next couple of weeks. They play firstplace Westlake coming up and that will be a tough test. But every other team is in a similar position as Newton and each game is winnable.
Newton boys 8-2 (3-0 Region 2-AAAAA), first place
The boys find themselves in familiar territory heading into the breadth of the region schedule. They’re 3-0 and in sole possession of first place but that can change quickly. The Rams have Newnan, Westlake and Eat Coweta on deck then a much-anticipated cross county matchup with Rockdale and Kevin Ware.
Before the Rams can get too comfortable, they’ll have to find their stroke from the free throw line and their shooting in gen-
eral. Newton went into the tournament shooting 71 percent from the free throw line but struggled at East Jackson. Whether it was the tight rims of a relatively new gym or just a rough week, Newton didn’t shoot free throws well and saw their team percentage dip into the 60s.
The good news is, the Rams been holding their own on the glass. What was a major concern coming into the season hasn't been the decisive disadvantage head coach Rick Rasmussen had feared. For instance, in the championship game against Cedar Shoals Newton had no size advantage yet still outrebounded the Jaguars 37-24. That will need to continue as the Rams get ready for a tough stretch.
Eastside girls 11-0 (5-0 Region 4-AAA), first place
What else can you say about Eastside's girls in the first half? They’ve been about as goo as a team can be. The Lady Eagles have yet to lose and at 5-0 in the region, sit atop the standings with Sandy Creek which is also undefeated. Eastside has non-region wins over Heritage (twice), Alcovy and Newton and just swept Morgan County and Monroe Area at the Sweet South Classic over the break.
Eastside jumps right back into it with home games against Sandy Creek and Spalding this week. The game against Sandy Creek will determine which team controls the region. With a lot of basketball left (11 games counting the two this week) it’s still way too early to crown the Lady eagles region champs.
Eastside is reaping the benefits of a veteran team. Jjade Cook, Raven Williams and Paige Alexander have been playing together for four years and it shows, but the key has been Alexia Somerset. Somerset has given the Lady Eagles another scorer besides Cook and that’s been a major factor in Eastside's success. The question is, can the Lady Eagles keep it going?
Eastside boys 4-7 (14 Region 4-AAA), fifth place
Eastside’s boys need to find an identity in the second half. Donovan Barrett and Devin Gerald have been solid so far but the Eagles aren’t getting consistent contributions from anywhere else. Ben Miller has shown signs but Eastside is struggling offensively overall.
Coming off a disappointing Sweet South showing where they lost both games including a double overtime game, and an at 1-4 in the region, the Eagles aren’t where they want to be heading into the second half. Eastside has a chance to get back in the hunt with games against Sandy Creek and Spalding this week. Then comes the series finale with Alcovy Saturday. The Eagles need to find their groove fast before the season slips away.
Alcovy girls 10-2, (2-0 Region 3A-AAAA), second place
Alcovy head coach Kidada Holtzclaw said before the Sweet South Classic would serve as a good test for where her team is at. The results were 50/50. The Lady Tigers beat Jonesboro but were held in check by Stephenson.
Alcovy is sitting pretty in the region standings and should be one of the top teams the rest of the way. But the Stephenson game revealed their biggest weakness. Size. While Stephenson is the exception to the rule and has size on its front line, the Lady Tigers are going to face teams with a height advantage in the playoffs. They’ll need everything they can get from Ashley Williams who as a sophomore, as exceeded expectations so far. Their success will go beyond Williams though.
The Tigers must get more than just offense from Megan Tucker. Tucker scores but doesn’t play lockdown defense or rebound. She is strong and could help the Lady Tigers on the boards more but she tends to look to get out and run when the opposition shoots. For Alcovy to make a run at a region championship and beyond, they’ll need a team effort on the glass and inside. Offensively they can score. Led by Kate Palo, Williams and Tucker, Alcovy has dynamic scoring. But rebounding and interior defense will continue to be the challenge.
Alcovy boys 7-4 (2-0 Region 3A-AAAA), second place
The Tigers had their seven-game winning streak snapped in the championship game at Arabia Mountain the last time out but are entering the meat of the region schedule with momentum. Devon Edwards is rolling and has emerged as a legitimate scorer. More importantly, the Tigers are playing to their strengths which is team defense. Alcovy has cut down on the turnovers that plagued them at the beginning of the year and wins over Newton and Stephenson have bolstered their confidence and served notice.
While it’s still early, the Tigers have an inside edge on the region title. But that won’t happen if they don’t keep playing the way they have over the past three weeks. The truth will be told over the next few weeks.
Always coaching: Eastside boys’ coach Michael Gerald gives out instruction during the Eagle’s home win over Heritage earlier in the season. Newton girls’ coach Tiffani Johnson and the Lady Rams are riding a 3-game winning streak after taking the Chuck Miller Classic last month.
Blocked: Newton’s Willie Smith has been a pleasant surprise inside and has helped the Rams race out to an 8-2 record.