This is it. It's an important time of year for local basketball teams.
Region play began this weekend for Evans, Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside high schools. From here on out, every game is important.
Sure, there are a few nonregion matchups sprinkled among the region schedule, but the region record will determine seeding in the end-of-season region tournament.
In Region 3B-AAAA, which includes Evans, Greenbrier, Lakeside, the Academy of Richmond County and Statesboro, teams will have to earn their spot at the tournament. The way the bracket is set up, the last-place team from each subregion will miss out on the postseason.
The way the competition looks, that last-place team might come out of Columbia County.
Richmond Academy has a girls squad at 7-7 in the region with a pair of wins over Cross Creek (a team that's beat Evans twice this year). Their top player, Kaylyn Smith, bears the nickname of "Baby Shaq" and has certainly earned the title. It's not that she can't hit free throws, but the 6-foot-2-inch junior has dominated local teams all season long and was named the United Energy Holiday Classic tournament MVP last weekend as the Lady Musketeers earned a tournament championship.
The Musketeer boys are even better with a 10-5 record. On Dec. 20, Richmond Academy faced off against Class AAAAA No. 5 Centennial and came away with a three-point victory.
Statesboro is the unknown of the group, but the Blue Devil boys finished fourth in the region last year and made a state tournament playoff appearance.
In Harlem's region, both the boys and girls are guaranteed a spot in the tournament.
The boys must face Thomson, a team that has easily knocked off Jefferson County twice and put up 100 points against Class AAAAA Camden County. Glenn Hills is also on the Harlem boys schedule with a 12-1 record and a win over Evans.
Obviously, our teams have their work cut out for them. In past years, it might have been appropriate to throw in the towel, give up and wait for baseball season.
This year, the county has talent. The rivalry between Evans and Greenbrier has always been there, but this season it will mean something beyond bragging rights.
If Greenbrier's boys sweep Evans in the next two meetings, it could mean an appearance in the Class AAAA coaches poll. It's the same thing for Evans if they sweep the Wolfpack. Either way, it's nice to see a game so highly anticipated that Greenbrier's sports staff is already making preparations to accommodate the high number of fans who will show up for the Jan. 12 showdown at Greenbrier.
The Greenbrier girls are ranked and will probably control their own destiny when it comes to the region tournament. They're off to the best start in school history, and without Jones County in the region this year, the path is set for another deep playoff run.
I'll be the first to say that I can't wait for baseball season to start, but January belongs to our basketball teams.
I wonder what they'll do with it.
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