Next step for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBRERRY
The journey continues.
Following last week’s dramatic overtime win over Banks County, the Callaway Cavaliers will be back on the road on Thursday for the second round of the Class AA boys’ state tournament.
Callaway’s opponent will be Chattooga County, which beat Douglass-Atlanta in a first-round matchup.
Chattooga County will be the host team, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.
Chattooga County comes into Thursday’s game riding a five-game winning streak.
After beating Rockmart 61-52 in overtime to win the Region 7-AA championship, Chattooga dispatched Douglass 80-69.
Callaway, after finishing third in Region 5-AA, beat Banks County 86-83 in overtime in the opening round of the state tournament, with Demetrius Coleman delivering a 43-point performance.
The winner of today’s game will play Washington County or Laney in the quarterfinals next week.
For the Cavaliers under head coach Terry Hayes, this is nothing new.
The Cavaliers have made numerous deep runs in the state tournament with Hayes at the helm.
Before last season, in fact, Callaway had made it at least as far as the second round of the state tournament four straight years.
That included a trip to the semifinals in 2014, and a quarterfinal appearance in 2015.
That run came to a close last season.
An inexperienced Callaway team that included a number of freshmen and sophomores who either started or played a lot managed just three wins and didn’t qualify for the state tournament.
“It was a learning process,” said Hayes, who with the exception of a couple of season is the only boys’ basketball coach Callaway has ever had. “You’re talking about going from the eighth grade to the ninth grade, and playing against juniors and seniors. It makes a big difference. They learned, and lost a lot of close games. They learned from last year.”
Indeed they did.
The Cavaliers finished second in Region 5-AA in the regular season.
After a loss to the Bremen Blue Devils in the semifinals of the region tournament, they beat the rival Heard County Braves to secure the region’s number three seed.
Because the Cavaliers didn’t finish first or second in the region, they had to go on the road for the first round of the state tournament.
With Coleman coming through with a career day, Callaway outlasted Banks County in overtime to reach the round of 16.
“If you look back at what we went through last year, we couldn’t go out like that,” said Coleman, who along with Javontay Boddie started as a freshman last season. “We’d come too far.”
The Banks County game was the first time this season that Callaway faced a do-or-die situation.
Callaway assistant coach Sam Cotton said the growing maturity of the players helped them deal with that pressure.
“They’ve grown a little bit. They’ve got a sense of urgency,” Cotton said. “You don’t get second chances. One, and you’re out.”
Junior Antinez Blount, who like so many of his teammates got his feet wet as a varsity player last season, said the Banks County game “says how far we’ve come.”
“It was real fun, to see how my team reacted to that environment,” added Blount, who scored 18 points against Banks County. “We all just got together, kept pushing.”
Of the five starters in the Banks County game, three were sophomores, and two were juniors.
The sophomores are Coleman, Boddie and Jalin Shephard, who give Callaway a formidable trio of guards.
The juniors are Blount and Duke Simpson, post players who have the ability to step out and knock down 3-pointers.
Other key contributors for Callaway include Jacob Freeman, Jamichael Parks and DeAundre Towns.
Parks had six points while making 5-of-6 free-throw attempts against Banks County.
While the future appears bright for the Cavaliers, there are no assurances the Cavaliers will be in this position next season.
Hayes’ message to the players is to embrace the moment.
“There is no guarantee you’ll be back,” Hayes said. “That’s why I say, play like it’s your last game.”
Coleman, whose stellar play at quarterback helped Callaway’s football team reach the state semifinals last fall, has no doubt about the mental strength of his team.
“I believe it’s about who wants it more,” Coleman said. “And I believe we want it more.”
Standing in Callaway’s way is a Chattooga team that has thrived under the leadership of head coach Jared Groce.
Last season, Chattooga went 23-4, although it was upset in the first round of the state tournament.
This season, Chattooga won a third consecutive region title, and it broke through for a state win over Douglass-Atlanta.
Jundraius Adams led Chattooga with 19 points in the Douglass game, and Clayton Johnson added 17 points.
Malachi Jackson and Devin Price each scored 11 points, and Trey Flowers made three 3-pointers and scored nine points.
“They’re going to be good,” Hayes said. “The competition gets better and better. It doesn’t get worse.”
WHAT: Second round of Class AA state tournament
WHEN: Thursday, 6 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway (13-11) finished third in Region 5-AA and beat Banks County 86-83 in the first round of the state tournament; Chattooga (18-10) finished second in Region 8-AA and beat Douglass-Atlanta 80-69 in the first round of the state tournament
UP NEXT: The winner will play either Washington County or Laney in the third round