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SEB eliminated by Washington County

    SANDERSVILLE — An entire season’s worth of hard work saw Southeast Bulloch make the state playoffs for the first time since the 2001 season, but the top-seeded Golden Hawks of Washington County saw to it that the Yellow Jackets’ playoff stay was a brief one.
    Southeast Bulloch threw some early punches and hung close throughout the first half before Washington County brought an onslaught over the final two quarters to run away with a 62-31 victory in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs Friday night.
    “We ran up against a very talented team tonight,” SEB coach John Page said. “I thought we competed really well, but we got down a little bit and panicked a little. We got out of our game plan and that cost us.”
    TiQuan Lewis scored 14 for the Hawks (24-1) and was one of six Washington County players to record at least seven points on the evening.
    Sheldon Hendrix connected on three 3-pointers to lead the Yellow Jackets (18-12) with nine points.
    As the game began, Southeast Bulloch didn’t show the jitters of a first-time playoff team.
    On the Jackets’ opening possession, Hendrix — as he had done so many times during the regular season — lofted a deep 3. Hendrix’s shot caught nothing but net.
    The SEB defense offered a similar early spark, forcing the Hawks to miss their first three attempts from the field.
    Lamont Ballard gave the Jackets an early 5-1 lead, but Washington County finally came to life as Lewis hit the Hawks’ first field goal and A.J. Gray added a three-point play on the next possession.
    The teams battled to a draw for much of the first quarter before Kendall Phillips’ 3 at the buzzer gave Washington County a lead it never relinquished.
    The Hawks rattled off an 8-3 run to begin the second quarter, spearheaded by a pair of inside buckets from Lewis.
    Matthew McBride’s 3-pointer was the only field goal the Jackets received in the second quarter. Preston Smith connected on five free throws, but Washington County continued to hit from the field and built a 25-17 halftime lead.
    “I thought we played well early on,” Page said. “We executed like we wanted to. Unfortunately, Washington County was able to hit a few easy shots in a row. That kind of got us out of rhythm. We didn’t get it back together and the second half didn’t go well for us.”
    The Hawks netted the first six points of the third quarter and it was mostly downhill from there for the Jackets.
    Lewis continued to gather rebounds and inside points while Mckel Miller connected on a pair of jumpers in the quarter to give the Hawks a 39-24 advantage after three periods of play.
    With SEB players tiring, a flurry of fastbreaks and transition buckets helped Washington County make the scoreboard look much more lopsided than the action on the court. The Hawks’ bench players made their dents on the score sheet over the final few minutes as Washington easily rode out the fourth quarter for the win.
    The Hawks now move on to host either Central Macon or Rockmart in the second round of the state playoffs.
    While the Jackets’ season is now done, there is no taking away the feats that were accomplished.
    In addition to breaking its 13-year playoff drought, the Jackets’ 18 wins were the most for any SEB team in the last five years.
    “I’m proud of our team,” Page said. “We faced a tough opponent and believed we could win. We played like it early on.
“For the guys coming back next year, it’s time to keep it up. We’ll take a little time off, but then we’ll get right back to work.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.