TIFTON — The Region 1-AAAAAAA basketball championship is up for grabs tonight in Tifton. The Tift County Blue Devils will be in one corner, vying for their sixth straight conference title.
Tift will face either Lowndes or Colquitt County. The two were matched in semifinals Thursday night, with the game ending after press time.
Tift’s game will follow the girls’ region championship contest, which starts at 6 p.m.
The Devils are ready regardless of opponent.
“We don’t have a preference,” said head coach Chris Wade, whose team went 6-0 against region competition this season. That includes two wins each over both Colquitt and Lowndes.
Wade said both squads had their advantages. Colquitt has been by paced senior Cam Singletary. Lowndes has a bit more height, which he said, Tift had been able to neutralize in the previous meetings.
Region tournaments usually bring bigger excitement to schools across the state. With the region tournament layout being what it is for Region 1, Tift had thankfully been able to maintain its regular schedule.
With just four teams in the conference and only three guaranteed state tourney slots, play began Tuesday with No. 4 Camden County playing No. 3, Colquitt County, the Packers winning 61-46. Colquitt and Lowndes met to determine a finalist Thursday against the regular season champs. Add in that the tournament has been hosted by Tift and it is practically a normal week.
“This week’s been good for us,” said Wade.
He values the regular season title as much as he does the one for the region tournament.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to go undefeated,” Wade said.
The last few weeks have been exceptionally good since Wade has had his full lineup. Extracurricular activities and injuries have limited who he has available.
“It’s important to get our rotation in practice,” he said.
Fortunately, Wade has had player such as Montavious Terrell and Marquavious Johnson available all season long.
Terrell was the region’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Football activities finally ended Wednesday with National Signing Day, which saw two of his regulars, Otis Jackson and Rashod Bateman, sign with Lincoln University (Mo.) and the University of Minnesota, respectively.
Wade was proud to see both sign; “A huge event in their lives,” he said. Bateman had reportedly received basketball offers from Virginia Tech and Penn State at the end of last season, in addition to the ones from football.
By virtue of taking the regular season championship, Tift also assured themselves of a home game for at least the first round of the state tournament. The first round game will be played next Friday or Saturday against the No. 3 or No. 4 team from Region 2. Region 2 won’t wrap playoffs until Saturday, with the semifinals tonight.
Region 2’s final four teams are Pebblebrook, Westlake, Wheeler and Campbell.
In addition to the season’s accomplishments, Tift County extended its state tournament streak to 25 straight years, the longest of any boys team in the state.
Update: The Blue Devils will face Colquitt County. The Packers defeated Lowndes, 65-55, in the semifinals.