By R. Alan Richardson
It’s been a while since both the Morgan County boys and girls basketball teams have held the number one spot in AAA at the same time. This past week’s rankings have the girls moving from number two to number one after Beach, the previous number one lost to archrival Johnson-Savannah on Tuesday.
The Lady Dogs defeated Franklin County 60-46 Friday and then thumped Salem 65-24 in this weekend’s Sweet South Shootout to make the move to the top of the heap.
MOCO is now 14-3 on the season and still undefeated at 6-0 in 8-AAA Region play. The improved play of Tamia Benford has been a key reason the Dogs have catapulted into the top spot. Her increased offensive output as well as her defensive presence can’t go unnoticed. Region foe Jefferson is now ranked second behind Morgan and only a half-game behind them in 8-AAA. Johnson, the defending State Champion from 2018 moved up to number three after defeating Beach 55-42 while Beach slid down to number four. Morgan now has an important region matchup with the Hart County Lady Bulldogs who are number five right now on the rankings chart. This region is no slouch with three teams in the top five. It will be a fight to the finish for these teams to determine who will come out as Region Champions.
Over the past three seasons Morgan has been a force in the State Playoffs having lost in the second round last season to Haralson County, finishing in the Final Four in 2017, and winning it all in 2016. Certainly Beach and Johnson will be contenders having met in the Championship game each of the past two seasons and splitting those two meetings.
The Lady Dogs took care of business this past weekend with their wins over Franklin County and Salem. The Franklin game was much closer than the previous contest on the road that ended in an 83-43 lopsided win. Franklin kept it close throughout by tying things up at the end of the first quarter 10-10. It was still tied at halftime 21-21. Tamia Benford and Miranda Powell paced MOCO in the half with 13 combined first half points. Miracle Hunter also came in off the bench to give the team a lift with four straight late points.
The Lady Dogs took advantage of some third quarter foul shots hitting 6 of 8 from the stripe and Benford continued her hot scoring with 12 of Morgan’s 18 points to give the girls a 39-29 lead after three periods. Again, it was the defensive effort that held Franklin to only eight points that was the difference. The team went on to outscore the Lady Lions 15-9 to take the 16-point win. Leading scorers were Benford with a career-high 28 and Powell with 14.
Saturday’s game with Salem was no contest. After taking a 27-1 first quarter advantage, Coach Josh Reeves played his entire bench, the water girl, and the stat keepers the rest of the way to the 65-24 victory. The overmatched Lady Seminoles succumbed to the full court pressure early and often barely getting the ball across midcourt for much of the first half.
The coming week looms large for Morgan. Morgan took on number five Hart County this past Tuesday and will now go on the road to face off with AAAAAAA Newton on Saturday. Even though Newton is a little down this year at 6-10, they will be a formidable opponent for the girls.
Benford talked about her impressive play with these comments, “I just feel when we play team ball and play hard on defense it gets us into our offense and transition game. Defense wins game. I think I’m playing more under control and I like playing defense so our team can get into our offense. Miranda is our main shooter so I play defense so she can put points on the board for us.” Asked if hard work had played a role in her and the team’s performance, she said, “We practice hard and push each other every day. We’re number one right now so we’ve got everyone on our back. We just need to keep pushing each other to work hard.”
Josh Reeves made these comments about his team’s week and play. “Friday was a tough game with Franklin. We knew it would be a much closer game with them having some players back from our first meeting. They didn’t give us the easy turnovers and we couldn’t buy a bucket early. Once we found our rhythm, the man-to-man defense dictated our offense. Tamia and Taylor (Wilson) have really upped their games and Neshay (Cobb) has become our backline anchor. The players feel like they can take a few more risks because she’s back there and playing well on both ends of the court.”
Don’t miss Saturday’s shootout with Newton in an across-the-border war. The varsity girls’ game is scheduled for 5:00 and the boys will follow around 6:30 p.m.