THOMASVILLE -- The Brookwood Warriors boys basketball team is in the midst of a crucial week. It plays region foes Valwood today and Southwest Georgia Christian on Friday. Plus, it has a non-region game against Terrell Academy sandwiched in between.

"Once you get to this part of the season, every game is critical," Brookwood head coach Brad Piazza said.

Wins against Valwood and SGA would put the Warriors (7-1, 1-0) in the driver seat for another GISA Region 3-AA championship.

"We win, and we have beaten everybody in the region except SGA," Piazza said. "But SGA already has two region losses. It would be nice to have everybody in the region chasing us."

The Warriors being considered contenders for the region title is a surprise to many. They lost four starters off of last year's final-eight team and only have four seniors on the roster this year.

But those seniors have taken the leadership role and have made the rest of the team believers.

"We have come together," said only returning starter, Drew Johnson. "Last year, we had a more talented team, but this year we have more chemistry."

Fellow senior Martin Rowland agrees.

"Since we all have been playing together for so long we have a lot of chemistry," he said. "We understand each other. Last year, there wasn't so much chemistry."

Senior Pace Callaway said knowing they would have to give 100 percent every game is another reason why they have been successful.

"Last year, we were so talented we always didn't have to give it our best effort," he said. "This year we know we have to give it our best and leave it all on the court."

Callaway has taken the hustle role to heart. Piazza said he has been the most improved player on the team.

"Pace has really responded on both ends of the court," Piazza said. "He has been the biggest surprise. Chris (Qualheim), Drew and those guys have been playing well, but Pace has been the most steady player night in and night out."

"Last year, I took a year off," Callaway said. "I really knew I had to step up this year. I wanted to be first in all the sprints and stay after practice and shoot."

Callaway's improvement mixed in with the rest of the starters solid play has led to wins. But even with a 7-1 record, the team wasn't always as confident as they are now. They played in a summer tournament in Thomasville and lost by 25 points the first game.

"After that, we thought it was going to be a long year," senior point guard Chris Qualheim said. "But we took it as a smack in the face and starting playing better."

"Coach told us before the season it was going to be a learning year," Johnson said. "He told us to take what we can get out of this season. We only have four seniors and two juniors, and we wanted to show them what it takes. After the first game we knew we could be good. Then we had big wins over Munroe and Georgia Christian, and we gained confidence."

Piazza, however, isn't completely surprised with how well his team has played.

"They have been winning because they have been outworking and out-executing the other team," he said. "This team always works hard. The surprising thing is how they have handled adversity night in and night out."

The adversity Piazza refers to is close games. The Warriors have already won four games by less than four points, including the region-opening 46-43 win against Tiftarea.

"You would figure we would come up on the other side at least once," Piazza said. "But they are believing in themselves and believing in what we are doing."

The team now believes they have a chance of winning time they step on the court.

"Our confidence is building after each game," Callaway said.

"This is definitely a big week," Rowland said. "If we win all these games, we'd be in the best position. Instead of chasing other teams, they'd be chasing us."

The big stretch begins today against Valwood at 8 p.m. at Brookwood.

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