Fourteen games into the basketball season, with no losses to its record, Godby boys basketball coach Andy Colville knew which team he would see in the Region 1-4A final should his Cougars get there.
Andrew Jackson High had become public enemy No. 1 to the coaching staff, which traveled to Jacksonville several times to scout the Tigers.
Friday night, the ultimate test of preparedness is front and center as Godby (28-0) puts its unbeaten season and No. 1 Class 4A ranking to the test at Jackson (26-3) in hopes of reaching the state tournament in Lakeland.
“They’re really good, and probably as good as anyone in the state in our classification,” Colville said. “They’ve played a tough schedule. They’re very athletic.”
Jackson is getting 14.2 points per game from 6-foot-2 senior guard Joshua Hawkins and 12.6 points per game from 6-2 senior guard Ted Williams II. There is a drop in scoring production from that point, though the Tigers do have the size to match up with Godby.
The Cougars will lean heavily on 6-foot-7 senior forward Londell King (12.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg) to set the tone in the paint, while senior point guard Jordan Gaskins (10.3 ppg, 5.4 apg) and junior guard Quan Jackson (13.2 ppg) can also spark the well-rounded team.
Godby’s biggest strength has been turning close games into blowouts with huge third-quarter performances.
“A lot of it has to do with depth, and the way we play, we’re able to wear down a lot of teams,” Colville said. “When you can bring Jaylin Stewart, who is 6-foot-6, off the bench, a lot of people don’t have that type of player.”
Stewart is averaging eight points and six rebounds a game over 16 minutes of play, while eight players are averaging sizable minutes each game and heavy production across all statistical categories.
But stats and battles waged on paper mean little until the mettle of a team is found when hearts are pumping 180 beats per minute.
“We’ve seen them twice in person and watched a lot of footage of them, but you never know what will happen until you throw the ball up,” Colville said.
“They look really good to me, and it’s an extremely tough place to play. It will be packed. To go on the road and beat a team like that would be one of the best victories I’ve ever had. Going on the road to beat Andrew Jackson would be a heck of a win for our guys.”
Three other area teams besides Godby advanced to the regional finals, but two results from regional semifinals were surprising.
Maclay (18-13) advanced past NFC to face Providence (27-1) Friday in Jacksonville, which wasn’t unusual. But Rickards upset Rutherford (25-4), 61-52, while Lincoln fell to Crestview for the second straight season.
The Trojans’ 58-56 loss was a head-scratcher for second-year Lincoln coach Dimitric Salters, who had a seven-inch advantage in interior height with sophomore center Dwight Wilson towering over the Bulldogs’ players.
“They did a really good job of packing it in, and over time, watching film, opponents learned to double down on the big guy,” Salters said.
“They closed him in after giving down open looks early that he knocked down. But they did a good job negating him when it got inside, triple teaming and making us pass back out.”
Things didn’t go as planned and Lincoln’s shooters failed to knock down shots from the perimeter to loosen Crestview’s defensive strategy.
“They controlled the tempo, they made more plays, they got more hustle balls than we did,” Salters said.
“We took four bad shots with a seven-point lead and we didn’t recover from that. I question what actually happened, went back and watched the film, but we just didn’t make the plays we’re supposed to make.”
West Gadsden (27-2), third-ranked in Class 1A, hosts No. 1 Chipley (25-4) Friday while Rickards (15-12) welcomes Baker County (21-8) Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m.
West Gadsden girls improve
Turnarounds aren’t always measured in wins and losses, although it can be an indicator even in the smallest of margins.
The West Gadsden girls basketball program won one game in the 2013-14 season, which also marked the end of its head coach’s three years.
When Cornelius Pace took over this season, he had a huge challenge ahead to change the culture of the small Greensboro school.
“I was excited, but I didn’t realize the past and all the various obstacles that would be there,” said the Panthers’ new coach. “We not only had to rebuild, but the team was almost all new. We only had two players that had played before. That was just some of the task at hand.”
Pace started with summer workouts, and where other schools may immediately begin playing an existing style and building on-court chemistry, West Gadsden still needed bodies. And Pace found himself teaching the most elementary of basketball skills.
“I literally had to teach and develop players so they could play organized basketball,” Pace said. “We lost our first (five) games, but between discipline, structure and building up the moral, by the third (week) they started understanding the philosophy, and the model, which was, ‘First time. Team first.’ The more we got correct the first time, the greater the opportunities we were going to have.”
The Panthers won their first game on Nov. 25, beating Tallavana Christian, 49-42. West Gadsden took its share of bad losses, but it also had its narrow ones, such as a 61-55 loss to Chiles. Eventually, the Panthers wound up with a 7-18 record and even won a district tournament game for the first time in four years.
Pace had girls that wanted to play, even needing to round out the roster of just one senior with three middle schoolers and a freshman. His sophomore daughter C’era Pace averaged 14 points per game on the year, while sophomore Shakia Gilcrease poured in 23 per game.
But unlike previous years, West Gadsden now heads into the current offseason with an intact roster and a foundation that’s been laid for even greater success next year.
“We overcame the obstacles,” Pace said. “Before, the kids had a quitter’s mentality. But now they’re preparing to produce. That mentality is all turned around now.”