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Seniors looking for big moments in region tourneys
Gilbert Miller for the Effingham Herald Effingham County's Keion Wallace gets fouled late in Friday night's victory against Glynn Academy in Brunswick.

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

GUYTON – Senior guard Kay’mar Griffin knew potential was growing for South Effingham girls basketball. During the last three seasons, the Mustangs bounced from seven wins to 10 to now 19 — their first winning season in seven years.

And they’re still eyeing more accomplishments, still bouncing, as a No. 2 seed heading into the upcoming Region 2-6A Tournament.

South (19-6) has a bye until the semifinal round on Wednesday night (Feb. 15) in Brunswick against either Grovetown, Effingham County or Evans. The Mustangs have beaten each of those foes twice this season.

A semifinal win would give SEHS a shot at a region title on Feb. 17, its first since the 2013-14 season, along with securing a first-round home game in the state tournament which starts Feb. 21-22.

In other region tournament action, South’s boys play Glynn Academy and ECHS girls meet Evans in region play-in games on Friday (Feb. 10).

The Rebels boys (17-8) finished fourth and will play fifth-seeded Evans in the quarterfinals Tuesday (Feb. 14).

The losers in the early rounds of the region tournament will see their seasons end. Griffin knows the feeling. During her last two years, SEHS failed to win a region tournament game and saw her seasons finish unceremoniously without a trip to state. 

“In the 10th grade, we lost a lot of girls. Coach (Alexus) Parker came in the next year and we started working,” Griffin said. “Even though we didn’t win that many games, you could tell the competition was there. We were hungry and this year we were able to cap it all off.”

On Senior Night at SEHS, Griffin stood with her parents and held balloons during a ceremony to honor the seniors players. It was a special night for other reasons. The Mustangs defeated Evans High to clinch their first spot in the state tournament since her freshman year.

A balloon slipped from a teammate’s hand and floated to the gym’s ceiling.

How high can the girls go? SEHS’ team, with four experienced senior starters, checked a lot of boxes during the regular season. Six-foot-2 center Zakerria Hall was a force on the inside, Laney Dobbs provided outside shooting and Shi’Asia House showed she could be an inside/outside scoring threat. Junior point guard Elena Hairston gave the team a solid ball handler and distributor.

Griffin tied everything together with full-court athleticism and half-court patience.

“Same girls as last year but with a different mindset,” Parker said. “I knew the first year would be a little rocky. A new head coach in a program, building relationships, that trust factor, working some of those old habits out. This year, you’re starting to see them jelling more. They’ve bought into the program.

“The biggest thing is we have to finish. The season isn’t over. Postseason is about who wants it more, not necessarily who’s the best team. We have to want it.”

ECHS seniors looking for better ending

Effingham County’s senior nucleus of Keion Wallace, Timmy Brown, Ashley Thompson and Rashad Scott are also looking for a final string of wins to add to its legacy.

The Rebels’ senior class has accumulated a four-year mark of 70-35, but has no region titles or state tournament wins.

ECHS had a 13-point lead in the final five minutes against third-ranked Evans in the first round of state in 2021. Last season, the Rebels saw a shot at the buzzer derail their region championship hopes against Statesboro.

“I wouldn’t even say (losing and having the season end) is just devastating to a senior,” Scott said. “Statesboro hurt. Evans hurt.

“This year, I’m proud of what we’re doing. You can definitely see development. If we can keep doing what we’re doing, we can get a championship in our hands.”

ECHS (17-8) will enter its region quarterfinal game against Evans on a three-game winning streak. The Rebels, who have three losses by one point this season, stunned Class 6A’s tenth-ranked Brunswick 49-47 on Jan. 31. They had a 15-point halftime lead against defending state champion Grovetown before faltering the final minutes.

“I tell our guys, don’t look at records,” coach Travis Priddy said. “We’re just now starting to get battle-tested and we’re learning how to win those close games.”