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EGSC eyes national title
East Georgia coach Neil Bailey shakes hands with his players during a regular season win in Swainsboro. Bailey has guided the Bobcats to a 30-2 overall record and a Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association championship in the program's third year of existence. East Georgia faces Coffeyville Community College in the NJCAA national tournament today at 3 p.m. - photo by Associated Press

    East Georgia State College has only been playing basketball for three years, but don’t tell that to the Bobcats.
    Since winning the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association tournament and clinching an automatic bid to the NJCAA tournament, the team has had quite a trip.
    The best part of the season so far, according to EGSC head coach and athletic director Neil Bailey, was telling their story to Holy Cross Elementary in Kansas — a stop on the trip to the tournament, which takes place in Hutchinson, Kan.
    They spoke to the kids about overcoming the odds.
    “They treated our guys like they were NBA players,” Bailey said. “The guys were signing autographs, and we told those kids our story, about being underappreciated and underdogs — nobody giving us much of a chance — and how we persevered. It was a tremendous experience.”
    The No. 7 seed Bobcats (30-2) will face No. 10 Coffeyville Community College, which beat Walters State, 77-53, in the national tournament’s play-in round on Monday.
    East Georgia hasn’t played a game since the GCAA championship on March 9. The NJCAA tournament is also the farthest the Bobcats have traveled — by a long shot. They stopped off Saturday to get a practice in on the campus of NCAA Division I’s Murray State.
    “We went down to Tallahassee, Fla., (during the regular season), and that’s the farthest we’ve traveled prior to this,” Bailey said. “We had a good practice at Murray and a great practice (on Monday) here. (Tuesday), it wasn’t so good. They’re just ready to play. We’ve practiced probably 10 times since our last game, and at this point, it’s hard to get the intensity up when you know you’ve got a big game.”
    EGSC has always been an underdog, but never as much as it is in the national tournament.
    “We are so different than every team out here,” Bailey said. “Most of these programs have been out here a dozen times. They’ve got kids from 10 states, and we don’t even have kids from 10 different counties. They’re bigger than we are for the most part and they’re on full scholarships.”
    East Georgia is a high-scoring team — the Bobcats average 82.2 points per game — but Bailey feels like it’s defense that sets the Bobcats apart.
    “I’ve watched a lot of games since we got (to the tournament),” the EGSC coach said, “and I really feel like people don’t play defense like we do. They’re not as aggressive, as physical, as intense as we are.”
    The winner between EGSC and Coffeyville will advance to the quarterfinals, and will face the winner between Spartanburg Methodist and Kilgore College on Thursday.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.