Cedartown head boys basketball coach Benjie Frazier took a deep breath after the team’s first round state playoff victory last week and took stock of how far they had come.
A rocky start had turned into a regular season region title and a berth in the Class 4A state playoffs. And as long as his players kept fighting, he hoped the good times would continue as well.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs’ state road ran through Fayetteville, and after topping Marist 42-38 to open the playoffs at home last Wednesday, Cedartown was met with a tough task last Friday against Fayette County and lost 84-46, bringing its season to a close.
However, Frazier knew they had accomplished a lot by just staying together as a team, including the program’s first win in the state playoffs since 2009.
The win over Marist saw both teams fight to score points, but an 11-0 run by Cedartown in the final minutes pushed the Bulldogs past the War Eagles and onto the Sweet 16.
“The kids kept fighting. That was an indication of our whole season right there. It was like a roller coaster,” Frazier said after the win. “But I’m so proud of these kids because at the beginning of the year we started out 3-8 and we could have easily folded shop and called it quits. But these kids beared down and they’ve been playing as one. They’ve been playing great team basketball. That’s what I asked of them and they came through tonight.”
Marist started out taking advantage of a few Cedartown turnovers to go up 11-7 after the first period. That was followed by a second quarter where each team scored a combined seven points with the visitors clinging to a 13-12 lead at the half. Jeremiah Johnson led the Bulldogs with six points at the break.
The War Eagles appeared to come out of the locker room with the momentum early, but Cedartown got some encouragement from senior Michael Walker, who hit three straight shots to get the Bulldogs back in the game. A 6-0 run to end the period, including a sinker at the buzzer from CJ Washington, put Cedartown up 26-21 after three.
Cedartown (13-11) was plagued by turnovers again in the fourth quarter and was forced to make up the offense at the free throw line, where they went 11-of-12 in the final 1:35 and warded off Marist’s best attempts at a comeback to win.
“I think they were nervous because they hadn’t played in over a week, and some of my guys, it was their first true playoff game,” Frazier said. “It was nerves, you know, that’s kind of expected. After halftime it seemed like we settled down a little bit, even though we still turned the ball over too much for my liking in the second half, but it seemed like we settled down, and then we made some shots, and that was key, we made shots while we were also playing on the defensive end as well.”
Johnson led the Bulldogs with 13 points, while Walker had 10. MJ Holiday was a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line, six of which came in the final stretch.
Although the Bulldogs were able to topple Marist in the first round, they did not have such luck in the Sweet 16.
Cedartown traveled to Fayette County on Friday night and limped away with an 84-46 defeat. Ranked as the No. 5 team in Class 4A, the Tigers raced out to a 22-9 lead in the first period before stretching it to a 22-point advantage at halftime. Fayette County pulled their starters at the end of the third period, where they led 74-35.
The Bulldogs, without junior forward CJ Washington, who had to compete in a football 7-on-7 camp in Texas over the weekend, had no answer for the Tigers’ offense. Fayette County junior Kaleb Evans, a 6-foot-8 four-star recruit with offers from Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia, scored 32 points in just three periods of action.
Senior Jeremiah Johnson put together a nice performance in his final game as a Bulldog, finishing with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double. MJ Holiday had 13 points and three rebounds while Jordan Johnson added 12 points and three rebounds. Michael Walker had four points and five boards.
Cedartown’s four seniors — Johnson, Walker, Isaiah Johnson, and Tony Beeman — each received playing time in the playoff loss.