Lo­cal teams get back to work

County sports teams get back into re­gion com­pe­ti­tion

The Covington News - - Front page - Josh Briggs Sports Edi­tor

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.

An­thony Banks/The News

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.

Brit­tany Thomas/The Cov­ing­ton News

Blocked: Newton’s Wil­lie Smith has been a pleas­ant sur­prise in­side and has helped the Rams race out to an 8-2 record.

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