Five local high school basketball teams remain — three already clinching spots in the state tournament — and have their eyes on winning region championships.
In a perfect world, Region 7-4A’s boys title will be a memorable one.
Filling out metaphorical brackets and drawing road maps is a dangerous endeavor, especially when one team hasn’t locked a state berth yet and hasn’t played in 10 days. Still, fans and players must have a Dalton-Northwest Whitfield matchup on Wednesday in their consciousness.
Dalton, which defeated Pickens on Saturday at Cass High School, will play River Ridge Tuesday in the semifinals. Northwest still plays its quarterfinals, win-and-in, lose-and-done game today at 5:30 p.m. against Cass. A win for the Bruins, and they face Gilmer on Tuesday.
If both Dalton and Northwest win, then Wednesday becomes oh so much fun. These two rivals played each other twice during the regular season — each defending its home court — so a third matchup to decide the season series on a neutral venue just makes too much sense. They played last year for the Region 7-4A championship, but after Northwest swept the season series and then won again for the league title.
That year always felt like Northwest’s to lose — even if all three games were close. This year feels a lot more even, and that sets the stage for a more impactful conclusion.
It’s a long way off, and a lot has to happen. Coaches always use the cliché of “one game at a time” for a reason — to avoid their players overlooking a perceived “easier” opponent.
None of this matters if Northwest loses today against Cass. In fact, it would be a bitter ending to an otherwise impressive season.
But Wednesday is only three days away, and only three things need to happen.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s OK to look ahead and formulate a wish list.
• Northwest’s girls play Ridgeland at 4 p.m. today in a similar win-and-in scenario as the boys entertain today. North Murray’s boys and girls play today in the Region 5-3A tournament semifinals, both against the top-seeded hosts, Cartersvlle. The girls play at 7 p.m. and boys at 8:30 p.m.
This is the third straight season the boys team reached the state tournament and second straight year for the girls.
At least three teams will play in the state tournament, which begins Friday with the girls matchups and Saturday with the boys.
• The wrestling state tournament was delayed a week due to the inclement weather, and now the entire six-classification field is spread across the state.
Murray County’s wrestlers will travel to Toombs County High School for Saturday’s Class 2A action, while Coahulla Creek’s Francisco Sanchez will compete for a 113-pound Class 3A title at Buford High School on Saturday.
Dalton, Northwest and Southeast Whitfield will grapple in the Class 4A bracket at West Laurens High School beginning Friday and continuing Saturday.
• The soccer season started last week with Northwest’s girls and Dalton’s boys earning dominant wins.
This week, the baseball season begins.
Murray County travels to Trion at 5 p.m. today to avenge a winless season a year ago. North Murray plays three times this week — one matchup at home Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against Christian Heritage, which hosts Coahulla Creek at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Southeast begins its season at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Calhoun.
• Now looking behind, the Georgia Rampage won 49-11 in Saturday’s preseason game against the Tifton-based Georgia Firebirds.
Erik Jones scored three times at wide receiver for the Rampage, and Demarcus Simmons, wide receiver and quarterback, caught two scores at wideout.
Kacee Smith, the Rampage’s owner, said fans gave positive reviews of the rule changes for this season. In the newly formed X-League, the “X-dash” is a replacement for the customary pregame coin toss to decide which team receives possession of the ball first. One player from each team will start the same distance apart from midfield, where the ball is, and will race and fight to gain possession. The one-on-one competition was used in the now-defunct XFL, a football league created by World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon.
Other additions are the “X-bonus” and “X-spot.” The X-bonus makes all scores in the final minute of each half worth double points. The X-spot is a 6-foot wide, 6-foot long box in the end zone, and if a receiver catches a touchdown pass in the spot at any point during the game, the scoring team earns two extra points.
Other scoring tweaks are: eight points for defensive touchdowns, four points for field goals via a drop kick, three points for post-touchdown conversions from the 25-yard line, two points for extra points via a drop kick and one point for all defensive stops.
“I was really anxious to see what fans thought about it,” Smith said. “I asked a few to strike a conversation and everyone loved it.
“One point for a defensive stop was a big hit, as was the X-dash. Michael Figgars won that for us. I don’t know if anyone will beat him all season.”
The Rampage starts the season March 3 in the trade center against the Alabama Outlawz. Tickets for the regular season — both single-game tickets and season passes — are available on the team’s website, garampage.com.
Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can follow him on Twitter at @GoldenDev or email him at email@example.com