On paper, Friday’s boys basketball matchup between Excel and Christian Heritage seemed lopsided in favor of the Dalton school.
Christian Heritage came in with a 13-3 record and was ranked No. 8 in the first Class A Private power rankings that came out Tuesday, while Excel was ranked 25th.
However, after the final buzzer rang Friday night at Excel Christian Academy, the game was indeed lopsided, but in favor of the Eagles in a 70-46 win.
As a result, Excel is due for a major move up the power rankings next week.
“It’s a good win for our guys. ... They were top eight, and we knew we’re trying to get the points accumulated,” Excel head coach Matt Sanders said. “We knew we had our opportunities with Christian Heritage coming up, Walker coming up and then we have North Cobb Christian again. So we knew we had some opportunities, and we took advantage of the opportunity [Friday night].”
Darius Thrower had 30 points to lead Excel, while Caleb West and Chris Hale each added 17. However, despite the high scoring, Sanders was most pleased with his team’s defense in the game.
“Our defensive intensity in the first half — in the first quarter we held them to eight points. In the third quarter we held them to eight points — that’s what really set the tone for us throughout the night,” Sanders said.
Excel is now 8-9 overall and 3-1 in Region 6A-A. The Eagles will next take on Walker in another region game at home today at 3 p.m.
Cass 59, Woodland 31
The Woodland boys basketball team hung around with Cass for much of the first three quarters.
However, Cass made a big run at the end of the third quarter to help the Colonels pull away at home Friday night by a score of 59-31 for a region win.
“I think there was a point in that game where we just kind of clicked and busted it out a little bit,” Cass head coach David Brock said of his team’s win. “Tonight was definitely the most complete performance that we’ve put together all season, which is big for us. It shows that we’re continuing to get better and buying into the process and all the things that we talk about.”
The first half was a defensive-oriented battle as Cass held a 25-19 lead at the break. Woodland senior point guard Jonathan Pritchett hit four 3-pointers in the first half to keep Woodland in striking distance.
“[Pritchett] had 12 of [Woodland’s 19 first-half points] on 3s. Eighteen of their 19 points were on 3s,” Brock said. “It was kind of neck and neck at halftime. We stressed, coming out of the half, we needed to adjust and contest those a little bit, which we did.”
It was in the third quarter that the Colonels began to pull away, capitalizing on an 18-0 run in a five-minute stretch between the third and fourth quarters.
Matt Mundy hit two big 3s, while Mike Sims and Ian Whittington also hit jumpers to help Cass take the commanding lead before Woodland substituted in some its younger players to begin the fourth quarter.
Mundy has eight of Cass’ points during the big run, and made a buzzer-beating 3 to end the third to put an exclamation point on a 21-9 advantage in the period.
“Matthew Mundy, we joke with him. He idolizes Kobe Bryant,” Brock said. “We joked with him in the locker room, that was Mamba mentality with him stepping up and hitting that shot.”
Brock also credited his team’s defense for holding Woodland to 12 second-half points.
“We call it amoeba,” Brock said of the matchup zone his team played in the second half to slow down Woodland’s 3-point shooting. “It’s kind of like my seven herbs and spices, though. I can’t tell you everything about it. It’s just kind of a morphing zone defense. ... We use it as a change of pace because it throws people off, but we kind of got in a roll with it and just stayed with it.”
Woodland drops to 3-13 with the loss and 0-7 in Region 7-AAAAA, while Cass improves to 7-10 overall and 2-6 in region play. Brock said Friday’s win was important for Cass as the team tries to climb up the region standings.
“I think Sequoyah is the most talented team in the region and Dalton has been playing incredibly well,” Brock said of the race for seeding in the region tournament. “There is kind of a logjam between Creekview and River Ridge right there, and Rome has struggled. ... So there’s people hanging around in that pack. This is the one we had to get to keep moving up in the pack. Plus, it is a county rival and keeps us undefeated in the county, which is one of our goals that we’re trying to tackle.”
Cartersville 92, Pickens 40
Back on Dec. 18, 2015, while still trying to integrate the football players into the lineup, the Cartersville boys basketball team barely snuck by region foe Pickens by a score of 71-66 on the road.
Not even a month later, and the Canes showed how far they have come as they handily defeated Pickens Friday night at home by a score of 92-40.
“The last time we played them it was 71-66. So guys are finally now understanding what they’re supposed to be doing defensively,” Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said. “We got after it. I think that’s two games in a row we’ve been flying all over the place. They had one kid score 10 and everybody else was nine or less. Last time we played them, [Holden Roop] had 27. Tonight, he had seven.”
Cartersville pulled away from Pickens early and scored 57 points by halftime, only playing the team’s starters about 2 1/2 quarters in the game.
After the game, Tobin credited the big win to his team’s defense.
“Our goal is always 40 or less, and we finally held a team to 40. We did real well offensively, defensively, transition. We did a lot of good things,” he said. “A lot of our offense came off our defense. We got a ton of fastbreaks. We had a great crowd. So I just told our guys, ‘It’s cool when people come and watch and see how hard you guys are playing.’ It was a real good effort.”
Cartersville, now 11-4 overall and 7-1 in Region 7-AAAA, will next play Rome today in a non-region road game before travelling to Woodland Monday and current No. 1 seed in the region Northwest Whitfield on Tuesday.