There’s a catch to the whole idea of playing in a tough region.
When you get to the playoffs, it can definitely be beneficial for a team to have made its way through a meat grinder of a region. But you have to get to the playoffs.
Last year, Berea battled with Emerald for the fourth and final playoff berth in the always rugged Peach Blossom AAA Region, and in the second-to-last game of the season, Emerald beat Berea on a 3-pointer at the buzzer to clinch fourth and keep the Bulldogs out of the postseason.
“I felt like if we could have gotten in, we could have won one or two,” Berea coach Jeff Maness said.
It helps to be battle-tested but only if you can get into the battle.
Peach Blossom AAA Region play begins again Friday, with No. 5 Berea playing at No. 9 Southside in the marquee matchup.
They’re the two teams in the region that were ranked in the preseason, but it’s anyone’s guess who will be No. 1 and No. 1 come mid-February.
“Every night you’ve got to bring it,” said Maness. “It’s competitive — good coaches, good players, traditionally very strong. I don’t know if this year you have a clear-cut favorite. We were picked to win it, but Eastside’s already beat us.”
Eastside defeated Berea in the championship game of the Greenville County Tip-Off Tournament. That was one night after Travelers Rest outplayed Berea for a little more than three quarters before losing in the semifinals.
TR no longer has two-time county player of the year Andrew Brown, now playing at Furman University, but Maness expects the Devildogs to remain competitive.
“Those boys are used to winning, and they’ve still got some talent,” he said.
Greer, under first-year coach Greg Miller, already has a victory over Irmo, the third-ranked team in Class AAAA. Blue Ridge is always cited as a difficult place to play.
“I told someone the other day, I’ve really enjoyed being in Greenville County and competing in this region with so many Greenville County teams,” said Maness, in his sixth season at his alma mater after six seasons at Daniel.
“You throw Emerald and Chapman in that mix, and they both beat us last year, so it’s never an easy night. We get to start off with Southside. We’re going to find out just how good we are and how good they are.”