The Briarwood Buccaneers and Lady Bucs "must win" their first round games in the GISA Region 1-AA tournament this week at John Hancock Academy in order to earn a trip to the first round of the AA state tournament, which will begin next Wednesday, Feb. 18, at Middle Georgia College in Cochran.
The third-seeded Lady Bucs were scheduled to play sixth-seeded Thomas Jefferson Academy on Tuesday while the fourth-ranked Bucs were scheduled to play fifth-ranked Edmund Burke Academy on Wednesday. (The results of both games will be in the Feb. 19 edition of The Mirror.)
The Lady Bucs defeated Thomas Jefferson twice during regular season play. If they defeat Thomas Jefferson Tuesday, they will face the winner of the Nathanael Greene Academy/Curtis Baptist School contest at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, also at John Hancock in Sparta.
The Bucs defeated EBA twice in regular season play, once in overtime. If the Bucs defeat EBA, they will probably face the state's number one ranked and only undefeated team, Brentwood School of Sandersville, at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The region championship games, also at John Hancock, will be held Friday, beginning at 7 p.m. with the girls, followed by the boys at 8:30 p.m.
The top four teams in the region will advance to the first round of state play. Only the first game is a "must win" to advance.
The five Lady Buc seniors and the five Buc seniors finished their home seasons on a high note with the Lady Bucs defeating Thomas Jefferson Academy 62-38 and the Bucs winning 71-38.
But, it wasn't the wins that made the night special as all Buccaneer seniors were honored in the Senior Recognition ceremony between the girls and boys games.
It was, for the first time this year, Brandon Norman's presence on the court.
Norman, who has undergone brain surgery twice and gamma knife surgery once since September, joined the five seniors he has played with since middle school to start the game.
"It was a very emotional night for everyone -- with Brandon being able to play for the first time and Josh (Gardner) not being able to play," Coach Clayton Parrish said, referring to team leader Gardner, who received a severe head injury in the Gatewood game the previous week. Gardner's status for the playoffs is questionable.
Although Gardner couldn't play, he joined his classmates - Norman, Bob Wills, T. J. Mimbs and Chandler Harris as starters for their final home game.
With 17 seconds left on the clock, Norman, who played intermittently throughout the game, sank his first and only basket of the year -- a three-pointer.
Both sides rose and gave Norman a standing ovation.
As one fan put it, "There wasn't a dry eye on either side."
"They showed an awful lot of class," Parrish said of the young Thomas Jefferson team, coached by the Bucs' former coach, John Osborne. "They let him play, and they (the Jaguars' players and fans) cheered just as much when Brandon hit the three-pointer as our fans did."
Norman, who had been the Bucs leading scorer since he was a freshman, finished his career with 730 points.
If not for his condition, Norman probably would have joined the Bucs' elite club of 1,000 career point scorers, according to Parrish.
Wills and junior Burt Goolsby led the scoring with 22 points each, followed by T. J. Mimbs with 13 points in the Bucs win over Thomas Jefferson.
The Bucs followed up the final home win with a 53-35 win over Nathanael Green Academy in Siloam last Friday.
For the third straight game, Goolsby scored a career high -- this time it was 27 points.
As with the Bucs, the Lady Bucs' five seniors -- Terryn Cooper, Miriam Thrift, Linda Nutial, Lindsay Sherrer and Allison Gerlach -- took the floor first in their final game on their home court for a 62-38 victory over the Lady Jaguars.
"I was glad seniors could leave their home floor as winners," Coach Parrish said.
The Lady Bucs had an exceptional night from the floor, hitting eight three-pointers from the outside - six of those in the first quarter.
The Lady Bucs had a 15-point lead at the end of the first and built on that lead the remainder of the game.
Junior Anne Wills led the scoring with 16 points, followed by junior Ashley Pickard with 12, senior Miriam Thrift with nine and senior Terryn Cooper with eight. Wills and Thrift each hit three three-pointers while Cooper contributed two.
Down by two at the half, the Lady Bucs came back to grab a four point lead in the second half in their all-important final regular season game with Nathanael Greene in Siloam.
A win for the Lady Bucs would have tied them with the Lady Patriots for second place in the region standings.
"We were poised to win," Coach Parrish said. "We were behind by only two at the half and had built up a four-point lead in the third. On three of our next five possessions, we missed uncontested lay-ups. If we could have pushed that lead to 10, I think it would have made the difference in the game."
As it was, regulation ended in a 38-38 tie. The Lady Patriots outscored the Lady Bucs 12-5 in overtime to take a 50-43 win.
Wills led the scoring with 19 points, followed by senior Linda Nutial with eight.