The GHSA Class A Private power rankings came out Tuesday and the Excel boys basketball team is currently ranked 25th.
As Excel looks to make up ground and get into the top 16 for a trip to the state playoffs, the Eagles took down Gordon Central Tuesday at home, defeating the Warriors by a score of 50-39.
“We have some work to do,” Excel head coach Matt Sanders said. “We went through a tough first part of the season. If I remember correctly, five of the top 16 [in the power rankings] we’ve played or we will play. ... We still have some work in front of us, but I don’t want the guys to become so caught up in where we’re at in the power rankings. It’s the first one. We have a lot of ball to play. We have nine games left and then the region tournament. We’ll get to the region tournament and see what happens.”
Excel never trailed in Tuesday’s contest as the Eagles came ready to play in the initial four minutes of the game, scoring the first 10 points to take an early lead.
Gordon Central went on a 7-0 run to end the first quarter, but it was in the second when Excel began to pull away. The Eagles received 3-pointers from Darius Thrower, Chris Hale and Sam Kirkland as part of a 14-0 run in a five-minute span to begin the second period. Thrower scored nine points in the period and helped give Excel a 30-16 lead entering halftime.
“That second quarter really helped us out,” Sanders said. “We kind of got cold in the second half, but that second quarter, we caught fire. Sam Kirkland played well starting for us in a different spot in the rotation, so that really helped.”
The Eagles scored 20 points in the second quarter, but it was their defense throughout the game that allowed the Eagles to stay ahead. Excel forced 12 Gordon Central turnovers in the first half while holding the Warriors to 29 percent shooting from the field in the first two periods.
“We played well defensively. That’s one of our best defensive efforts as a team,” Sanders said. “They stuck to the game plan, understood personnel that they had, and I’m glad they responded defensively.
“We felt like we put pressure on a couple of their primary ballhandlers. We put other people in uncomfortable spots, and that’s what we want to do defensively. We want to disrupt people.”
The scoring for Excel cooled off in the second half as the Eagles scored eight points in the period.
“At moments, the ball started sticking and that’s when we got in trouble,” Sanders said of his team on offense. “We started falling in love with the 3. But when we kept attacking and playing downhill, playing inside-out, that’s when it opened up for us.”
Despite Excel’s shooting cooling off in the second period, the defensive effort continued into the second half. Excel held Gordon Central to 8-of-22 shooting in the final two periods while forcing 10 more turnovers. Hale scored seven points in the third quarter while Latrel Jones had three of his six steals in the period to keep the Eagles ahead by a score of 38-27 entering the fourth quarter.
“Latrel came out and he played well,” Sanders said. “He made a personal challenge of, ‘I wanted to play defensively and let my offensive game come within that.’”
In the fourth, Gordon Central ramped up its pressure on defense, getting out of the 2-3 zone it had played all game and began trapping. Even with the added pressure, Excel had just one turnover in the fourth quarter, and made 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
Darius Thrower, on a night when he was honored during the pregame for breaking Excel’s single-game and career scoring records, led Excel with 16 points. Hale added 13 points, four rebounds and two steals, while Caleb West scored 11 points with eight rebounds and three steals.
Excel now moves to 7-9 on the season and will return to region play Friday with a game against Christian Heritage, which is ranked No. 8 in the Class A Private rankings.
“It’s a big-time matchup with Christian Heritage coming in,” Sanders said. “It’s a region game, top 10 power rankings team, so that’ll be a great opportunity to get them here in our home gym Friday night. We’re going to go out and have a good two days of practice and get ourselves in the best position that we can.”
Cartersville 83, Ridgeland 43
After taking a tough loss to Cass Saturday, the Canes came back with a strong showing Tuesday night in a region game.
The Canes easily dispatched of Ridgeland in Rossville by a score of 83-43.
“We got a little humble pie on Saturday and got our heads right,” Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said of the win. “We got after it tonight, got almost all the 50-50 balls. I think we will really be playing well at tourney time.”
The Canes were led by Travon Davis with 14 points, Jaylon Pugh with 13, Cortney Cooley with 12 and T.J. Horton with 10.
“Everybody played, got a lot of minutes,” Tobin said. “A lot of balanced scoring.”
With the win, Cartersville improves to 10-4 overall and 6-1 in Region 7-AAAA. The Canes will next take the floor Friday at Pickens.
Cedartown 58, Cass 56
The Cass boys basketball team lost a close one Tuesday night at Cedartown, falling to the Bulldogs by a score of 58-56 on the road.
Cass now falls to 6-10 overall and will return to region play Friday when the Colonels host Woodland.
River Ridge 58, Woodland 51
The Woodland boys basketball team came close to knocking a team off that is ahead of the Wildcats in the Region 7-AAAAA standings.
However, Woodland was unable to close the gap on River Ridge Tuesday night, falling to the Knights by a score of 58-51 on the road.
Woodland drops to 3-12 overall and 0-6 in region play. The ’Cats will host Cass Friday as they look to pick up a region win.