Theoretically, the most meaningful games of any tournament are played on the last day.
That’s the day, of course, when champions are crowned and trophies are gained.
Still, for my money, I have always felt that the quarterfinals of the region tournaments are where the real drama can be found, and where the rawest of emotions come spilling out.
In most cases, the teams that win in the quarterfinals are assured of a berth in the state tournament, which is generally considered the holy grail of high school basketball. The losing teams get to go home and try on their soccer uniforms.
In years past, the Region 7-AA tournament has generally featured two full days of quarterfinal action — or the ‘Go to State’ games, as I like to call them — with one day being comprised of four straight boys games, and another day consisting of four consecutive girls games.
They are, perhaps, the most exciting two days of the year on the prep sports landscape, and two days that I whole-heartedly look forward to each February.
This year, however, the tournament was structured a little differently, with the top two seeds getting byes into the semifinals. As a result, the quarterfinal action was pared down to just one day that featured two boys games and two girls game.
And although this meant that there was only half as much “do-or-die” urgency, the fans that attended Wednesday’s game at Georgia Highlands certainly got their money’s worth.
With two rivalry matchups serving as bookends, there was more than six hours of intense basketball.
It started with the Armuchee-Pepperell girls game, which marked the third straight year the teams have meet in an elimination game. And although the final score doesn’t show it, the game did not lack entertainment.
Armuchee owned a precarious four-point lead early in the fourth before JessAnn Nix took over for the Lady Indians and helped carry her team to a 51-35 win. Nix finished with 20 points in the victory, which enabled Armuchee to get a little payback on Pepperell after the Lady Dragons ended Armuchee’s season the past two years.
The day was later capped off by the Armuchee-Model boys game — and while I hate to use this tired ol’ expression, the simple truth is that “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Crosstown rivals. Packed gym. Berth at state on the line. And the potential for history to be made, to boot. (Armuchee was vying for its first-ever state tournament trip). Perfect basketball setting.
Armuchee seemingly came out with more energy. But Model was able to withstand the early charge and ultimately grabbed a double-digit victory. (Fitting, I guess, that a team with the nickname Devils was able to take the heat.)
The day also featured a victory for the Coosa Eagles, thereby continuing an annual tradition. They have advanced to the state tournament in 13 of the past 14 years.
From top to bottom, it was a highly enjoyable day. I just wish there were two of them.
THROW IT DOWN: Although there are still two full days of the tournament to be played, I feel confident in saying that the most incredible individual highlight of the tournament is already in the books — the jaw-dropping, rim-rattling, buzzer-beating dunk by Model’s VJ Saxton during the win over Armuchee.
Without a doubt, it was One Shining Moment material.
With Model playing defense and the clock quickly ticking down to halftime, Saxton came up with a loose ball with roughly five seconds remaining in the quarter and started racing down the floor.
At that point, I assumed — and think most everyone else in the building did, too -- that Saxton would pull up at the 3-point line and launch a jumper at the buzzer. Instead, he continued toward the basket, at which point I said to myself: He’s not going to get a shot off. But Saxton soon took flight, and threw down a two-handed slam just a nano-second before the horn sounded.
The Model crowd went into a frenzy, and even the nuetral observers in the crowd were buzzing about it.
Later, I jokingly asked Model coach Jacob Travis if he designed that play. To which Travis replied “(It was) all coaching.”
I would image that Travis hit the rewind button a few times when he was watching the game film. It was certainly worth a few replays.
So, Mr. Saxton, I salute you for one of the finest plays I have ever seen.