It’s do or die for both Thomas County Central basketball teams.
The boys and girls host region play-in games against Hardaway for a shot to play in the 1-AAAAA Tournament later this week at Bainbridge.
The boys enter today’s 7:30 p.m. contest on a four-game winning streak capped by last Tuesday’s thrilling 68-65 overtime win over Bainbridge. Yellow Jackets coach Chad Ward said he’s ingrained mental motivation to keep the team hot at the most important time of the year.
“The guys are now seeing that we can win the close games that we lost early in the year,” said Ward, whose squad started the season 5-15. “Everybody is on the same page now. That winning streak is huge going into regionals.”
The Yellow Jackets had two tastes of Hardaway this year and split contests in favor of the home team. The most recent meeting was on Jan. 31, when Central ousted the Hawks 48-35 in a game dominated by defense.
Ward expects a comparable outset tomorrow and has catered his gameplan accordingly. He said the Yellow Jackets will primarily aim to earn points in the post; quite contrary to the arsenal of outside shots his squad made last Tuesday, including 11 three-pointers.
“Our focus this game is to pound the ball inside, but if they clog the middle, we’ll get it out and hopefully our shooters can make some great shots like they did last week,” he said.
Central’s boys were in a near identical scenario last year needing to win the play-in on the road at Lee County.
“Our guys responded to the call. It’s no different this time around,” Ward said.
The Yellow Jackets went on to finish third in the region before bowing in the first round of the state playoffs to Starr’s Mill.
The girls will take a much different approach in their 6 p.m. contest.
Coach Deatrice Hose believes fast-pace transition and a full court press will beat the Lady Hawks, and has sprinkled aggression into her unit’s mental gameplan.
“Overall, I think we’re going to have to work hard the whole way through the game. Neither team is just going to lay down,” Hose said.
Free throws were the ultimate factor in the Lady Yellow Jackets’ most recent outing against Bainbridge last Tuesday. Central missed 23 of 39 from the line and fell 41-33.
Hose said the squad spent roughly an hour on free throws alone last week in lieu of the defeat.
“I think for us, free throws are more of a mental block at times than physical because they are fully capable,” she said. “Hopefully the time we put in last week will pay off for us.”
Both teams agree that playing in the confines of their own gym could not only be a determining factor, but a defining one also.
The Central crowd was about half full last Tuesday yet extremely raucous. Both coaches are anticipating the best turn out of the season tonight.
“They’ve been waiting for something like this to happen,” Ward. “We have the best student section in the county, I think. They’re amazing. They try to get into the other team’s best player’s head and get them all rattled, and they do a great job. We need all the support we can get.”