Three years ago, Northwest Whitfield High School boys basketball coach Ryan Richards had a team with most of its talent in its under classes and a schedule that was beyond brutal. The Bruins were playing in what was then the second-highest classification in the state, and each region game was a full-blown trip.
That year, the Bruins won just six games. But even then, Richards said he thought his team had turned a corner.
“At the end of that year, I really felt like we could be good given some time,” Richards said. “Tanner (Quarles), Kaleb (King) and O’Shea (Hill) have been starting since sophomores, so we knew we would ride them. They got a lot of great experience against a lot of good teams in those two years. There isn’t a whole lot that group hasn’t seen or had thrown at them.”
The trio of third-year starters are a big reason why the Bruins are in the midst of what could arguably be called the school’s best basketball season ever. Northwest’s boys won their first region championship in the history of the program on Saturday night, while the Lady Bruins finished second in the region.
Both teams will play at home in the first round of the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A state tournament this week. As of Sunday evening, the logistics were still being worked out, but Richards said they were trying to have both the boys and girls play on Wednesday. And no matter the outcome of this week’s games, the Bruins’ region championship is one for the record books.
Having the win come on the home court of Northwest’s most fierce rival only made things better for the Bruins’ faithful and students who poured onto the floor at Dalton High to celebrate the title. It was the third time this season Northwest had beaten the Catamounts, and the fans for both teams who packed into The Cats Den got their money’s worth.
What has powered this year’s Northwest team has been a great diversity of players, playing styles and ways to attack opposing defenses. Hill, a hustling presence on the post, has been the main force all season, but as the Bruins’ have proven all season, he isn’t the only weapon.
“Looking back at teams in the past, when we had good teams, we had one key guy,” Richards said. “And if he had a good night, great. But if he struggled or the other team shut him down, we struggled.
“This year, you can shut down O’Shea, but how are you going to stop all the 3-pointers from Tanner or the penetration of our guards,” Richards asked. “There have been a lot of weapons, and a lot of players who can create trouble for people.”
Now, the task will be to not let that group of bears get satisfied with their accomplishment. The Bruins will face Region 6-4A No. 4 seed Grady, while the Lady Bruins are scheduled to host No. 3 seed Marist.
“The kids have done a good job of staying hungry,” Richards said. “We have broken the season down into segments, and I think our staff has put together a road map. I think that goes back to those guys playing three years and being in that league with all of the big schools. They understood there would be ups and downs this year, but they have been very consistent.”
Dalton’s boys will also play at home in a game scheduled for Wednesday, while Dalton’s girls are scheduled to play on Tuesday. Times for both of those games have not yet been set. Dalton’s boys will host Marist, while the Dalton girls will play at Redan. North Murray’s boys and girls are also in the tournament, and athletic director Roger Rainey said the Lady Mountaineers will play Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Elbert County, while the boys will play host to Hart County on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
• Northwest’s girls golf team will host the Lady Bruin Invitational at Nob North on Saturday at noon. It is the season’s first day of golf events for local teams, and Nob North will be the home to the Class 4A state tournament later this year
• Coahulla Creek and Dalton meet on the baseball diamond Thursday, and it will be the first game Shane Ramsey leads the Catamounts. The first pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The Colts start their season today at 5:30 p.m. hosting LaFayette. On Tuesday, North Murray hosts Union County and Southeast Whitfield hosts Calhoun, both at 5:30 p.m.
• By the end of the week, the Georgia Rampage will have around a dozen less players, but will be nearer to the Feb. 26 preseason game and the beginning of the 2013 Ultimate Indoor Football League season.
The Rampage will cut the roster down to 24 players by Wednesday, co-owner Kacee Smith previously said, and will host the Georgia Panthers in a scrimmage at the trade center. On March 4, the Rampage face the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders in the season opener at the trade center.
Season tickets still are available either by calling (706) 272-7676 or visiting www.georgiarampage.com. Season ticket prices range fro $40 to $125 depending on the section.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer with The Daily Citizen. Contact him at email@example.com.