Tifton Gazette

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March 5, 2014

Column: Memories of the last time

TIFTON — As the Tift County Blue Devils prepare to play for the Class AAAAAA state basketball championship this Saturday in Macon against Wheeler, I began to think about the last time the Devils played for a state title.

That was in 2004 and It accounts for what may be the second biggest banner at the Tift County High arena, only behind the 1996 team that won state.

That year the Devils were paced by two eventual All-State players in Stanley Brownlee and Dwight Tolbert, as well as sharp-shooter Thomas Hightower.

The team went 28-1, and unfortunately that one loss was the state title game against the South Gwinnett Comets.

That Comet team featured current Atlanta Hawk Lou Williams and Mike Mercer, who had a good career at the University of Georgia.

In the state title game’s first minute, Williams basically kicked the ball to himself and went in for a dunk. I knew then it was going to be a long night for Tift.

Oh having mentioned all of this, I have forgotten one important detail: the state title game was at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, a “neutral” court.

It was the biggest crowd I have ever seen for a high school basketball game as there were probably between 9,000 to 10,000 people present.

With South Gwinnett playing at the Gwinnett Arena, probably 95 percent of those fans were there for the Comets.

Just imagine on a smaller scale, Tift playing Wheeler this Saturday on the “neutral” court at ABAC’s Gressette Gym.

Back to the game. Tift kept the game close for most of the first half, only down 29-24 with 19.9 seconds left in the second quarter. But South Gwinnett would go on an eventual run and would end up winning 75-49.

That’s one good thing about Saturday night. Macon will truly be a neutral court. Fans should have about equal distances to travel, because traveling 10 years ago to Gwinnett Arena was a joke. I felt it was then and still feel that way.

Don’t get me wrong, South Gwinnett was the better team, but if that game had been played on a true neutral court there is no way the Comets would have won by 26 points.

I hope for the best for Tift County this Saturday against Wheeler. The Devils have been close in previous years, and having knocked on the door, maybe it’s time for Tift to break it down.

 

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Jensen Rainey (left) and Josie Arant will both be participating in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship next week in North Carolina.

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