He understands there are a couple of pretty influential pieces missing from the chess board that were there at the beginning.

But the Darlington Tigers have found ways to win. And they also found a spot in the final GHSA Class A Power Ratings that allows them to host the first round of the state basketball playoffs.

“Our goal going into the season was to win as many games as we could, of course, but we definitely wanted to host a playoff game,” Pierson said. “So the fact that we’ve had to deal with all of the adversity we’ve gone through these last few weeks and still have been able to do that is a victory for us.”

Darlington (14-12) will host Hebron Christian Academy in the opening round of the Class A Private state playoffs on Friday at 7:30 p.m. as the second game of a back-to-back with the Darlington girls, who play Galloway at 6 p.m. It will be the first time in more than three weeks either team has played on their home court.

The Tigers are ranked No. 12 in the power rakings, while Hebron Christian is 21st.

When they step on the floor at the Huffman Center, the Tigers will be without senior forward JD Hull — who is still in concussion protocol following an injury — and junior center Tate Ratledge — who is nursing an ankle injury.

Hull was the 2018 Rome News-Tribune Boys’ Player of the Year and averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds per game before he suffered a concussion at North Cobb Christian on Jan. 8.

“Obviously we’re a different team when you take out a guy like him,” Pierson said. “He was having an even better year than last year. I felt like when it happened we were really just starting to click as a team. So the last 11 games have been a bit up and down.”

Ratledge worked to make up some ground at center, but he was hurt during Darlington’s game against Notre Dame (Tenn.) on Feb. 2 and is not in line to play Friday.

Enter Patrick Shelley and Wit Szymanski, two freshmen guards who had piqued Pierson’s interest before the season started but have been quickly promoted to everyday players since the loss of Hull. Shelley is averaging 14 points a game and Szymanski is around 10, according to Pierson.

“I think those two guys are getting valuable experience that will be big for us next year,” Pierson said. “In the long term it will be a great thing for Darlington basketball, but they’ve been thrust into a bigger role than anyone would have thought they would back at the start of the December when the season began.”

Pierson said seniors Andrew Land, Barrick Wade and Eli Brooks stepped to the table and been supportive of the younger Tigers.

“They have done a good job being positive teammates and keeping in mind that we are all in this together, and we want to win games,” Pierson said. “Down the stretch here, one of the two (freshmen) have been our leading scorer, and that’s a testament to our seniors buying into that.”

Since Hull has been out Darlington has gone 6-5, including a loss to Mt. Bethel in the Region 6-A tournament last week at Trion that saw the Tigers stay close with the Eagles for much of the first three quarters before losing 59-41. Mt. Bethel is ranked No. 4 in the power rankings.

“Their depth took over near the end and we tried to take the game to the foul line,” Pierson said of his team’s last game. “But I thought in a lot of ways it felt closer than what the final score indicated, and hopefully it gave our guys a lot of confidence.”

LOCAL TEAMS IN STATE PLAYOFFS

GHSA STATE BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

Friday, Feb. 15

CLASS A PRIVATE

Galloway girls at Darlington, 6 p.m.

Hebron Christian boys at Darlington, 7:30 p.m.

CLASS A PUBLIC

Trion girls at Pelham, 6 p.m.

CLASS AA

Model girls at KIPP Academy, 6 p.m.

Therrell girls at Chattooga, 6 p.m.

Washington girls at Rockmart, 6 p.m.

Coosa boys at South Atlanta, 6:30 p.m.

Douglass boys at Chattooga, 7:30 p.m.

Hapeville boys at Rockmart, 7:30 p.m.

Model boys at Therrell, 7:30 p.m.

CLASS 5A

Rome girls at Maynard Jackson, 6 p.m.

Rome boys at Riverwood, 8 p.m.

GICAA DIVISION I-A STATE PLAYOFFS

Quarterfinals

Friday, Feb. 15

Unity Christain girls vs. Georgia Christian School, 4 p.m.

at Brewton-Parker College