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Jim Alred Column: Jackets never gave up in loss to GAC

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Roughly 30 minutes after his Calhoun Yellow Jackets came within four points of pulling off the biggest upset in the state of Georgia this season, Calhoun coach Vince Layson sat in the locker room.

He shook his head as he answered questions from reporters. He talked at length of how proud he was of his team. How nobody gave the Yellow Jackets a chance and even joked he himself felt his team was probably good enough to reach the state semifinals.

In Friday night’s Class AA finals against heavily-favored Greater Atlanta Christian, the Yellow Jackets had several close misses.

A missed layup late, a critical turnover after a key defensive stop in the second quarter and a late charge that just as easily could have been a blocking foul on Greater Atlanta Christian’s best player, Isaiah Wilkins, who had four fouls at the time.

Each time it seemed the Spartans got the breaks and found a way to win.

When asked about the missed opportunities, Layson looked down, ran his hands through his hair and smiled.

“As a fan it had to be exciting. I’m sure all the fans were on the edge of their seat tonight. If one call or one play goes the opposite way, it would have been huge for us.”

One pundit in the state gave the Jackets a five percent chance to knock off GAC Friday. Somebody forgot to tell Calhoun they were supposed to fold when facing the mighty Spartans.

Wilkins, the player of the game, delivered on his promise, knocking down 29 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks.

But no Calhoun player backed down. The Jackets refused to let GAC ever make a big run. The Spartans’ biggest lead of the night was a paltry six points in the second quarter.

And while GAC fans might say the Spartans didn’t play well, the reason was the tenacity and never-say-die attitude of Calhoun and a wicked, smothering defense.

GAC attempted 11 3-pointers, they’re still waiting to make one.

Calhoun’s Chandler Curtis and Kaelan Riley drained big shot after big shot for the Jackets. Keyth Fightmaster more than lived up to his name, battling in the paint all night, scoring eight points and never backing down from Wilkins.

Austin Byrd grabbed 10 rebounds and scored eight points and Jireh Wilson had a big 3-pointer to go along with solid play all night.

Chapin Rierson came off the bench for some key minutes and scored two points.

When Layson said his guys battled, he wasn’t kidding or using coach speak. The Yellow Jackets left everything they had on the floor.

The Jackets also had a chance to tie the game. Down by three with less than 20 seconds to go, Calhoun never got a good shot off and GAC was able to escape with a big sigh of relief and win a second-straight state title.

In a season full of great players, great teams, great performances and great games, Calhoun delivered what might have been the best. Yes, the Jackets came up short.

It was a tough loss in the state finals to arguably the best team in any classification in Georgia. But Calhoun had a chance to win.

Tonight, the breaks didn’t go their way, but they can still hold their heads high over the performance.

And maybe Layson said it best, in the final quote he gave in the locker room before packing up and heading back to Calhoun.

“I told the guys at the beginning of the season that they had the athletic ability and God-given talent to be a final four team, and then they proved me wrong. They stepped up and made it the finals.

What more can you ask of a team?”

Jim Alred is New Media Director for News Publishing Company.​