Greenbrier's Melissa Lewis has the ball batted away by Effingham County's Dani Friess (left) as Jessica Austin (32) and Jessie Cowart (right) close in on the play during the region playoff game in Evans.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Editor's Note: Greenbrier basketball coaches Garrett Black and Casey Dees allowed Staff Writer Jonathan Heeter behind-the-scenes access to their teams during the day of the first round of the Region 2-AAAA tournament. Either team could advance to the state playoffs with a win, and no Greenbrier basketball team has ever made it to the state playoffs.
Spend a minute with the Greenbrier girls basketball team on game day. It would be impossible to tell whether they were playing for the state title or in a preseason game.
The girls were dancing during pregame warm-ups while music blared over the gym's loudspeakers. They were laughing and giggling minutes before the tip-off of the game against Effingham County on Tuesday night.
Never mind that with a win over the Lady Rebels, the Lady Wolfpack would be the first Greenbrier basketball team, boys or girls, to make the state playoffs.
"We're just a really loose team," senior Alisha Simmons said. "We don't take anything too seriously when we don't need to. When the game starts, we can get serious."
Lady Wolfpack coach Garrett Black said his team is "a little too loose."
Black was far more relaxed than he was during the state championship run by his softball team.
Greenbrier girls basketball coach Garrett Black talks to the team in the locker room before the game against Effingham County.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I'm not really sure why it hasn't made me as nervous," said Black, who said he didn't sleep during the four-day stay in Columbus last October. "Maybe winning the state championship changed my manner when it comes to big games."
It was a completely different story with boys coach Casey Dees.
Greenbrier needed to beat Jones County on Wednesday night to make it into the state playoffs.
"He looks pretty nervous," said junior Rich Poythress. "But I think he is always like this before games."
Dees couldn't relax all day leading up to the game, saying he hadn't slept much the night before.
He has watched the Greenbrier/Jones County tape from Feb. 2 - a 52-50 Wolfpack win - and the Evans/Jones County tape about 10 times each. Adding to his worries, seniors Eugene Rogers and Gavin Globensky both had the flu and had missed practice Tuesday.
"I think we can beat them if we play like we can," Dees said.
Lady Wolfpack players cheer as they take to the floor for the region game against Effingham.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Black sat down in front of his team minutes before tip-off against Effingham County.
At one point this season, papers saying "Heart and Soul" were littered throughout the locker room. The papers no longer were around.
"I think the team got the message," Black said.
Black told his team to play within themselves and they will head to the state playoffs.
Dees told his bunch to go out there and leave everything on the floor.
"If you guys do that, then I won't be upset, win or lose," Dees said. "It is now or never. We might never be back here again. If we lose, our season is done."
The Lady Wolfpack fell behind, 29-28, at halftime.
It got even worse for the Lady Pack in the third quarter. Greenbrier (20-6) trailed eight points heading into the fourth quarter and was down 10 early in the fourth.
But the Lady Pack rallied, cutting the Effingham lead to three points, 50-47, with 3:40 to play.
Sophomore guard Brooke Jackson drained a 3-pointer from the top of the 3-point arch to tie the game at 50 with two minutes to play.
Greenbrier never surrendered the lead again, outscoring Effingham 26-10 in the final period for a 60-52 win.
As the buzzer sounded, the Greenbrier boys team swarmed the girls in celebration.
"I think that helped us a lot," Poythress said. "It gave us a chance to see what it felt like. They showed a lot of heart and we could take a lot away from that."
Black told his team after the game that they still had unfinished business. A win in the region semifinals over Wayne County would allow Greenbrier to play host to the first round of the state playoffs.
"But right now, enjoy this," Black yelled. "Because we are going to state. You girls just made history."
Poythress said he wanted to follow the girls' lead, but was still a little nervous before tip-off.
"Because of the situation, Greenbrier not having been to state, I think it was natural to be a nervous," he said. "But we have so many clowns on this team and they keep everything loose."
Unlike the girls team, the Greenbrier boys jumped out to a 23-16 halftime advantage.
"You have played outstanding," Dees told his team at halftime. "I don't want you to think about winning or losing. Just play with the same intensity in the second half."
Just like Effingham County a night before, Greenbrier blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead and the game was tied at 39 when Wilmer Gray drained a 3-pointer with a minute to play.
High School students cheer for the Wolfpack during their game against Jones County at Greenbrier High School.
Photo by Chris Thelen
Unlike Effingham, Green-brier responded.
Chris Johnson connected on a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left from the same spot Jackson made hers the night before. The Wolfpack held on for a 45-39 win in the Brierpatch, and after the game ended, the crowd, which included the girls team, rushed the floor to celebrate with the boys.
Eight years with no state playoff appearances, and now Greenbrier will send two this year.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of you guys," Dees said after the game.
"You all stuck with it and played tough, even after the bad stretch we had in the middle of the season. Now we are all going to the state playoffs together."
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