Columbia County's high school basketball teams begin playoff action this week, and for the Evans Knights, the end of the road is a welcome sight.
Evans High School's teams have been stuck in Region 7-AAAAA the past two years, and considering the Knights are winless in region play this year, the punishment is almost over.
Next school year, Evans enters Region 2-AAAA, which means reduced travel, and no road-rash from being run over by powerful Atlanta-area squads.
"The coaches and fans in the region have been great," Knights coach Kevin Kenny said. "The only thing I'm not going to miss is the competition."
In basketball, size and speed are an unbeatable combination, and Evans' region opponents possess those qualities in abundance.
"It's a heck of a region. There are some teams brining 6-9 and 6-10 kids off the bench," Kenny said. "We're actually bigger than a lot of teams around here. One reason why we've struggled in the region is the kids know they're outmatched every game."
Seedings for Columbia County prep squads competing in the other region tournaments this week were still undecided heading into the regular season's final games on Friday and Saturday.
The Knights, meanwhile, have completed their region slate, and will be the No. 9 seed in the nine-team Region 7-AAAAA. Midway through last week, Kenny wasn't sure who his team will face in Monday's region tournament play-in game.
That lack of information is just another pitfall of being the odd team out in the Atlanta-based region.
Evans could extend its season with a victory over the No. 8 seed Monday at Stephenson High School. The Knights have competed well in their past few region games, and last weekend easily knocked off local rival Lakeside.
"I feel pretty good about the play-in game," Kenny said. 'We stand a real good shot of winning. We've been playing a whole lot better over the last month. The kids have been giving a great effort, but it isn't always translating to wins."
Kenny admits his team has lost some close games because of not being able to put four strong quarters together, but with only one non-region game on the schedule last week, the Knights will at least have fresh legs for the region play-in game.
That sets up the good news, bad news scenario - even if Evans advances beyond the play-in game, the prospects of making a tournament run are slim.
The good news is that when the Knights leave Atlanta this week, they won't be going back.
"No matter what happens this week, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew two years ago when we went into this region that it would be a struggle. We just had to weather the storm," Kenny said. "I have to give our players credit, especially the seniors. They've handled the adversity and conducted themselves with class."
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