By R. Alan Richardson
Upon entering the Macon Centreplex around 5 p.m. Saturday, it seemed as if the entire town of Hartwell and surrounding Hart County had made the three-hour trip to see both their boys and girls play for a AAA State Basketball Championship. Charter buses, school buses, church buses, Winnebago’s, limousines, SUV’s, and every other mode of transportation that included Vega’s, VW vans, and horse-drawn carriages arrived by the dozens. It was a veritable sea of orange that took over the Coliseum awaiting an imminent State Title for their beloved Bulldogs.
That dream was short-lived. The Hart County girls lost a squeaker to Johnson-Savannah followed by a fourteen point 68-54 loss to the Morgan County Bulldogs in the nightcap. Morgan’s fans also showed up in droves for the 8:00 finale that ended in a Dream Season for Coach Jamond Sims and his talent-laden squad of six seniors.
For the second time in five years, Sims brought home the trophy (see column in this issue for more details) much to the delight of the hundreds of fans that swarmed the Centreplex. It was the third overall for the program since 2014 when Coach Charlemagne Gibbons won the first State Title in school history. It wasn’t easy.
The two 8-AAA teams had faced off twice during the regular season with MOCO besting Hart 70-53 and 66-55 in January. But, this was not the same team the Bulldogs had beaten earlier. Hart, coming in as the third seed from the Region, had blitzed their way through the tournament ousting some good teams along the way in some close contests.
The first quarter saw both teams come out in their patented man-to-man defenses and feeling each other out for the first four minutes. With the score tied at 5-5, Morgan went on a 14-7 spurt to end the period with a 19-12 advantage after Tyrin Lawrence dunked a missed shot on a putback with under a minute to play. Damage had been done along the way when Alec Woodard picked up his second foul in the closing minutes of the quarter after leading the way with five points in the opening stanza. Malik Crawford again came off the bench to spell starter Nolan Causwell and immediately made his presence known with an and-one opportunity and two free throws. Lawrence also had a chance at an unusual four-point play when he was fouled on a three-point shot, but couldn’t convert the free throw. The Dogs seemed to be in complete control, but Hart had other ideas in the upcoming eight minutes.
The visitors pulled to within three points at 19-16 before Morgan went on an 8-0 run to take the 27-16 advantage with 4:28 left before the half. Senior guard, Stevin Greene, started the run with a three-pointer from downtown and ended it with another bucket. Power forward Trent Folds had another solid performance scoring six in the first half; one on a brilliant takeaway steal under his own basket. Morgan, however, only led by seven at the break at 31-24.
The first half was a wild and wooly affair with officials allowing both teams to play aggressively. Despite both teams being called for nine fouls, there were only 14 free throws attempted in the first 16 minutes. Let’s just say that they let the two teams play. Morgan went 3-6 from the line while Hart hit 4-8 of their attempts.
Woodard was reinserted into the starting lineup after the half and immediately made an impact on a follow-up offensive rebound bucket. Woodard came right back to make a nice assist to Crawford under the rim. Crawford then returned the favor on a no-look pass to Greene inside to give Morgan their biggest lead of the game 44-31. Hart closed out the third period with four straight points and it was still a game with Morgan leading 44-35 going into the final eight minutes of the season. Fans were standing on both sides of the arena. It was do or die; now or never for the Bulldogs.
Woodard and Lawrence asserted themselves when MOCO needed the two All-Region players the most in the fourth period. The two leaders accounted for 18 of Morgan’s final 24 points. They had carried the team for a majority of the season, and simply would not be denied in this one. Hart kept things close with a barrage of three’s, but the Dogs closed things out at the free throw line. They made 15 of 18 attempts at the free throw line to seal the deal.
As time expired, Sims took the time for his seniors to have one last curtain call by substituting some younger players. It was a time to thank and appreciate these guys for all the accolades, exciting moments, championships, and honors they have brought to Morgan County High School. The hugs, laughter, and tears that followed were expected as the head man congratulated Woodard, Lawrence, Greene, Causwell, and Crawford. It was a special moment.
After the game and pandemonium set in, the entire team turned to the Morgan County side and came into the stands to thank all the faithful for their support during the season. It was a fitting and final moment that ended in a Dream Season State Title for the Dogs. What a ride it was!