CLAXTON — After a pair of victories in the opening round of the GHSA Class A state tournament last weekend, both the Claxton boys and girls are one step closer to basketball’s ultimate prize.
Tonight, both squads travel to Mitchell County for a doubleheader with a pair of trips to the Elite Eight on the line.
“Playing this late in the tournament is new territory for us,” CHS boys coach Eric Bluestein said. “But we’re excited to be here. This team has proven time and time again that it isn’t afraid of anything and will challenge any team we have to face.”
Looking at the Lady Tigers, the feeling is mutual.
“All of our girls got their first taste of the playoffs last week,” Claxton girls coach Laura Aziz said of her squad’s 56-38 victory over Marion County in last Friday’s first round. “I think it helped that we got that experience at home. We worked out any nervousness and I think we’ll be ready to play (tonight).”
With both Tigers squads sporting No. 2 seeds and both Eagles teams No. 1 seeds, Claxton now has to leave the cozy confines of home. Early this morning, both teams will board charter busses for the trip to Camilla — a journey that will put the Tigers on the road for almost 10 hours, round trip.
“That’s the kind of thing that you sometimes have to deal with in the playoffs,” Bluestein said. “There are going to be long trips. I don’t think, aside from going to camp, that any of our guys have had to travel this far, but we’ll just make do.”
The trip will be broken up a bit as both teams plan to stop in Albany for lunch before borrowing a pair of gyms for a mid-day shoot-around.
From there, it’s another 45 minutes to the Mitchell County gym and getting down to business.
A 63-37 winner over Echols County in the first round, the Lady Eagles are an imposing bunch. Mitchell will have a decided height advantage and will look to dominate the boards against Claxton’s fast — but shorter — lineup. For the Lady Tigers to pull the upset, they will need to pull down as many defensive rebounds as possible and get stellar shooting nights from players like Polly Murray, Jazmine Price and Mariah Morgan.
In the boys’ game, things might be lining up well for Claxton.
The Tigers were the only one of the four Region 3-A representatives to make it out of the first round of the playoffs as a talent-rich Region 4-A notched an upset over 3-A champion Portal and won both games where its team was seeded higher.
The Eagles are sure to provide another tough game, but Claxton is brimming with confidence after reaching the second round for the first time in any of its players’ careers.
“I think that we match up pretty well with Mitchell County,” Bluestein said. “We really don’t have a true post, but they’ve only got a couple of taller guys and they don’t play much at the same time.
“They like to get out and run and that fits right in with what we like to do.”
Whichever teams win will head for Georgia College and State University this weekend for a state quarterfinal matchup. The state semifinals and finals are scheduled for next weekend in Macon.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.