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BA basketball teams set for region tourney
BA basketball
Bulloch Academy junior guard Bailey Smith makes an up-and-under move for two points in the second quarter of the Gators' basketball game against Augusta Prep on Friday. - photo by BRYAN BURKE/Special

    Having one basketball team with a 20-win season would be great for any high school but having two squads with the same kind of success is phenomenal.
    Bulloch Academy’s basketball teams have a combined 41-10 record for the 2011-12 regular season as they head into this week’s GISA Region 4-AAA tournament, which is being held at the Westminster School in Augusta.
    The Gators boys (20-5 overall, 9-3 in region play) take on Trinity Christian School at 8:30 tonight. The Lady Gators (21-5, 6-4) battle John Milledge Academy at 4 p.m. Friday.
    “Having two teams with 20-win seasons is a huge accomplishment,” Bulloch Academy athletic director and head boys’ coach Chandler Dennard said. “Six years ago, there probably wasn’t eight wins combined. The biggest thing is that I don’t think either program has had a losing season since then. It points to the hard work of our kids through the years to improve the Bulloch Academy basketball programs.”
    At the end of the 2005-06 season, the BA squads totaled 10 wins (6-18 for the girls and 4-20 for the boys). The next year, the boys were .500 (14-14) while the girls went 13-17. Since then, neither team has had a losing campaign. The Lady Gators had a 22-8 season in 2008-09, eventually making the Final Four. The boys went 23-5 during the 2009-10 season, won the Region 2-AA title and made it to the Final Four.
    Two 20-win teams speak volumes for the turnaround of the school’s basketball program and is probably a milestone in the school’s history. But postseason play determines how a team will really be remembered.
    “It was a great regular season,” Dennard said. “But that’s over. Our record is 0-0 now. All of the stuff before now was basically glorified practices. This is when you’ve got to perform.”
    Bulloch, the second seed, faces the eighth-seeded Crusaders in the boys’ play-in game. The Gators swept TCS during the season in two obscenely-lopsided games. But now the squad from Dublin has a chance to end BA’s season.
    “We’ve got to win in order to advance to the state tournament,” Dennard said. “We stumped our toes against Westminster and had a lot of distractions on Senior Night against Augusta Prep. We’ve got to get back on track, starting tonight. If we don’t get back on track, then it will be over and we’ll be sitting at home.”
    Dennard is depending on his upperclassmen to lead the way.
    “We’ve got a real experienced group,” he said. “Most are juniors and seniors and they have to rise to the occasion. They are the ones we are depending on.”
    Seniors Jaylen Evans, Clayton Rogers, John Cornett, and juniors Themba Twala and Forrest Spence are Dennard’s mainstays. But senior Hosea Jones, juniors Bailey Smith and Ross Rainey, and sophomores Matt and Bill Sheppard, as well as other bench personnel, play important roles for the squad.
    With a win, the Gators would advance to Friday’s 5:30 p.m. game but, more importantly, would secure a spot in next week’s GISA Class AAA tournament.
    Paul Webb’s Lady Gators have already won a spot in the state tournament but want to win the region championship.
    “Our girls set that (winning the region title) as a goal from Day One,” Webb said. “I think they believe in their hearts that they can do it. They are excited that they have assured themselves a place in the state tournament. I’ve tried to tell them that there is no pressure on us. We are going to state so let’s try our hardest to win the region title.”
    The Region 4-AAA girls’ teams have fought and scratched all season long, beating up each other in close contests. Friday’s game against John Milledge will be the fourth time that the Lady Gators and the Lady Trojans have mixed it up.
    “While it has been tough going through the season,” Webb said, “I think it will prepare our team for what they will see in the region and state tournaments.”
    Bulloch’s ‘Big Three,’ seniors Taylor Collins, Haley Burke and junior Anna Newton, have carried the majority of the load for the Lady Gators during their history-making season.
    But others have stepped up when necessary. Juniors Lauren Dennard, Mary Margaret Reeves and Marianna Peebles, sophomore Ashley Lanier, freshmen Ashley Burke, Pate Lomax and Page Spence and other members of the squad have all played vital roles during the year.
    “Of course we are going to need the ‘Big Three’ to have good games,” Webb said. “We need our bench to play well, too.”
    If the Lady Gators win Friday, they would play at 7 p.m. Saturday. If they lose Friday, the BA girls would play at 4 p.m. Saturday.