When organizing the Robolli's Christmas Classic, Evans High School coach Kevin Kenny did his best to fill up the first round with matchups between teams that might not normally play each other.
Once first-round games are complete; however, it's more difficult to control matchups.
This time around, the tournament provided four Columbia County squads with a unique opportunity. They were able to get a head-start on region play by facing a region opponent in a nonregion game.
In second-round winners bracket games, Grovetown played Harlem and Evans played Lakeside.
Asked whether he was worried about potentially tipping his hand and showing too much of Evans' game and style to the Panthers, Kenny pointed to the crowd at Evans' gymnasium.
"The coach from Statesboro is here tonight, watching," he said, identifying the move as a smart one considering the coach got to see three teams -- Evans, Lakeside and Greenbrier -- that the Blue Devils will play in Region 2-AAAA North.
Still, scouting teams and playing against them on the court are two different things.
The Knights got the upper hand in their first matchup with the Panthers, winning 59-40. In the game, Evans forced upwards of 35 turnovers.
It's something Lakeside coach John Kucela hopes his team can improve on in the teams' first region matchup, Jan. 14 at Lakeside, after seeing the Knights' intense defensive pressure.
"Next time we play them, I think we'll be more relaxed and won't get behind so much early in the game," Kucela said.
"You're not going to beat anybody like that, especially against a decent team," he added. "We just have to learn from it."
Evans plays host to Lakeside on Feb. 1 in their second region game.
Kenny doesn't believe in holding anything back when facing a future region opponent.
"Our philosophy at Evans is we're going to do what we do, and we dare you to stop us," he said. "Some coaches like to play it close to the vest and not show it. ... We're going to play our game."
Though Kenny believes winning might give the Knights confidence heading into the rematch, he cautioned his players against becoming complacent.
"It can sometimes backfire because, next time you play them in region play, your kids might be overconfident," he said.
Another aspect of region play that teams got a jump on in the Robolli's tournament was preparing for the rigors of a region tournament.
For Grovetown, the first matchup with Harlem could not have gone better. The Warriors held the Bulldogs under 40 points in a 59-39 victory.
Warriors coach Bill Madigan said his team has started to peak at the right time after struggles earlier this season.
Harlem plays at Grovetown on Friday in both teams' Region 3-AAA North opener. They play again Jan. 25 at Harlem.
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