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Devils off to state
SHS crop
Statesboro High guard Deontae Whitfield drives under and past Richmond Hill defender Andre Walker for a score in the fourth quarter of a Feb. 6 game in Statesboro. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff


   
    When basketball season began back in November, the Statesboro Blue Devils weren’t sure what to expect.
    In addition to trying to bounce back from a 2013-14 campaign that saw them fall short of the state playoffs, the Devils were also bumping up into Class AAAAA for the first time in school history and returned just one seasoned starter.
    Fast forward a few months and Statesboro is prepping for GHSA’s version of the big dance.
    The Devils (16-10) closed out their regular season with wins in six of their final seven games – including a victory over Richmond Hill in the finale that clinched the sub-region and secured a spot at state.
    “It feels so good to be back in state,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “We felt like we underachieved last season. We knew that we would have a very young team this year, but they’ve done everything we’ve asked of them. My hat’s off to them.”
    Statesboro fell in the Region 3-AAAAA semifinals, but bounced back to win a consolation match against Camden County and secure a No. 3 seed in the state tournament. Tonight, they’ll head to Riverdale for a 6 p.m. tipoff against the Drew Titans (19-6) which claimed the No. 2 seed as runners-up out of Region 4-AAAAA.
    Aside from setbacks against region champion McIntosh, Drew has lost just one other game since early January. The high-flying Titans have topped 80 points on 11 different occasions and have even hit triple-digits twice.
    Statesboro has had its own share of good shooting nights, but will need to take things up a notch.
    “We’ve seen teams similar to Drew,” Hill said. “I think they play similar to South Effingham, but they play faster and they’re more athletic.
    “They like to press and trap a lot. Our guys have seen that and they’ve responded, but now we have to do it after a four-hour bus ride and with the pressure of the playoffs.”
    Lone senior Michael Salomon was the steadying force for the Devils early this season. Salomon continues to lead, but Statesboro has clawed its way back to the postseason because first-time varsity contributors like Jaylan Patrick, Myles White and Cameron Harvey have responded to their added list of responsibilities.
    Statesboro’s group of underclassmen have far exceeded all expectations and now have a chance to shine on the state’s biggest stage. Hill credited their ability to grow and adjust to the team’s late charge and plans to continue to let his players’ talent go as far as it can in the postseason.
    “Nothing will be easy,” Hill said. “But if we win this one, you never know what can happen.  We worked so hard to get here. Now, we feel like the pressure is off. We’re just going to see how far we can go.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.