Get first 8-AAA wins
If your record is still unblemished in January, you still hold the number one spot in the state, haven’t been beaten in Region play in five years, won six Region Championships in a row, and have been to the AAA Finals four straight years, you can bet you’ll have a target on your back. That target means you are the team to beat. You become the marquee game that’s highlighted in red on all your opponents’ schedules. Who wouldn’t want to be the team to topple this juggernaut? Or at least give them a hiccup along the way?
Well, the Morgan County Bulldogs are learning that lesson up close and personal having survived two close encounters this past week with Region foe Hart County on the road and Heritage of Conyers at home. The full slate also included a Tuesday Region game vs. Franklin along the way to open up conference play. It’s been a full week for the Dogs.
Franklin County visited Morgan and got a taste of why the Dogs are what people say they are. In a less than spirited effort from MOCO, Morgan tamed the Lions 67-37. Morgan’s two big guns of Tyrin Lawrence (25) and Alec Woodard (18) combined for 43 points as the Dogs coasted to the first region win on the 2018 campaign. Senior and fan favorite Austin Hoopengardner had possibly his best outing of the year going 3-for-3 from the floor and chipping in with six points. Also scoring for the Dogs were Latrabious Stokes 5, KJ Wyatt 4, and Stevin Green, Jordan Huff, and Anthony Cooper with two points each. Quin Williams had 1 to round out all the scoring.
Morgan got things going early forcing turnovers out of their half-court trap and man-to-man defenses that created easy layups to take a 14-2 lead. Franklin was helpless as the horn sounded with the Dogs taking a commanding 17-5 advantage. Lawrence was instrumental with eight points in the quarter.
The rest of the game saw Morgan leading 38-22 at the half before the game mercifully ended with the 30-point victory.
Friday was a different story in the land of another group of Bulldogs of the Hart County brand. Hart came out ready to play. With Morgan missing Miranda Powell were named to the all-tournament team.
Two starters in Lawrence and Green, the orange and black took full advantage early and took a 10-point lead after the first quarter 18-8. They widened the gap to 11 by the half 36-25. It was time for the Dogs to regroup, and regroup they did. With all guns blazing the red and black came out hot and put on a defensive clinic to outscore Hart 20-5 in the third to go up by 4. The final stanza again had Morgan outscoring the home team 17-12 for the 62-53 win. Who else but the grizzled veteran Woodard would put the team on his back and carry the load. The junior cranked out 20 points on 4-of-7 from three-point land and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Williams had his best output of the season in an outstanding effort of 12 points and eight rebounds with seven coming on the offensive glass. Baig also stepped things up in his game by going 3-for-7 from behind the arc while grabbing three boards, handing out three assists, and taking yet another charge on the season. He’s good for one or two of those hustle plays each night. This is a guy who does all the little things that help his team win. Cooper played well in all phases of the game with nine points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and four blocked shots. Foul trouble has haunted him a little lately, but when he’s on his game, the Dogs are hard to deal with. In the end it was the second 8-AAA win of the week to put them in the drivers’ seat of the region standings.
Saturday wasn’t an easy one either. The Heritage Patriots came to town looking to spoil the Dogs’ perfect record and show them how AAAAAA basketball is played. They almost pulled off the upset. With 3:02 remaining in the game, a Heritage player hit a huge three-point shot to put them ahead by one 47-46. However, he made one fatal mistake. After making the shot he walked up into the face of Woodard, who was defending him on the play, and taunted him. His actions resulted in a technical foul, but worst of all it awoke a sleeping giant. Woodard made the free throws and Morgan put their game into another gear outscoring Heritage 18-2 over the final three minutes of play for the 64-59 victory. As the Jim Croce lyrics state, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, spit in the wind, pull the mask off the old lone ranger, and you don’t mess around with the Dogs.” Well, something like that.
Sims commented on the week, “I would have to say that I’m proud, but not surprised, of the way they performed this week. Looking back on it, the guys have played six games in 10 days including the Christmas Tourney. Picking up those two region wins were important in the early race for region positioning. The game against Hart gave us an opportunity to see exactly how deep we were. Being without Stevin and Tyrin allowed guys like Yusuf, Latrabious, and Quin to showcase their skills. The close games, even being down in situations, we never saw any stress or panic among the team. Most would’ve faltered being down against Heritage as the guys looked like they were sleepwalking. The technical foul for taunting against Heritage…it definitely woke them up as they went on an 18-2 run to close out the game.”
The Bulldogs have home games this week on Jan. 9 with East Jackson and Jan. 12 against Monroe Area. Game time is 6 p.m. Tuesday and 7 p.m. Friday. They will have a night off Jan. 13.