The Rockmart and Model girls’ teams begin play in the Elite Eight tonight, with the Lady Yellow Jackets advancing the furthest any Rockmart basketball team — boys or girls — has gone.
Rockmart will face Laney at home tonight at 6 p.m., and the Lady Blue Devils hit the road to take on Josey at 6 p.m.
The furthest the Lady Jackets have been in the playoffs was the Sweet 16 back in 1961, which is the same year the Lady Jackets were last crowned region champs — before this season that is.
The 20 wins the Lady Jackets have amassed, to their seven losses, is also a first for the team.
The historic significance however hasn’t been a distraction for the team according to head coach Tim Puckett.
“They’ve been a very humble team,” Puckett said. “They’ve been setting goals all year. We have a checklist of goals and they’ve been checking them off all season. They’re excited but we’re in uncharted territory. It hasn’t really set in for them yet. They’re just treating this like any other game.”
While the Lady Jackets are a little green when it comes to playoff experience, their opponent certainly isn’t. The top-seeded Lady Wildcats are the two-time defending champions and take an eight-game winning streak into tonight’s matchup. The Lady Jackets have been to the playoffs three times in Puckett’s six years at the helm, but they haven’t been able to make it past the first round until now.
“We’re playing Laney, but they don’t know the history of Laney,” Puckett said. “They just see it as another game and that they have homefield advantage. Rockmart has never been a big basketball program so they don’t know the history of these teams. For us it’s an advantage. I feel like we can beat any given team on any given day. It’s been a huge plus for us.”
The No. 3-seeded Lady Devils bring a wealth of playoff experience into tonight’s matchup, reaching the Final Four in the previous two seasons with six Elite Eight appearances over the last 10 years. But the Lady Devils have been underdogs of a sort this year playing all their postseason games on the road including tonight’s at Josey.
After downing No. 2 seed K.I.P.P. in the opening round and top-seeded Lamar County in Sweet 16, Model next faces last year’s state-runner and the No. 2 seed out of Region 4-AA.
Through the adversity on the road, Model head coach Sally Echols has tried to keep her team to maintain its focus since the beginning of the season. That unwavering focus has led to success for the Lady Devils.
“Really our focus is on defense as it has been since Game 1 of our season,” Echols said. “That’s where we get going, and when you’re going on a road trip there’s a lot of factors that can come into play: whether your shots are going in or not, the fans and the crowd. All of those things can come into play, but if your focus is on defense, some of those things will take care of themselves.”
Turning their attention on themselves rather than their opponents has been a key driving factor for Model.
“What is driving this team is themselves,” Echols said.” They are working for each other right now better than they have all season. We have emphasized the value in team, and I feel we are playing the best team basketball we’ve played all year. Also it’s do or die. We’re fighting to live another day. That alone will give you a little extra push.”