January 23, 2022

Region No. 2 Braves hosting Rabun County Wednesday night

The 2020-2021 Region 5-AA Runner-up Braves (L-R): Coach Shannon Smith, Coach Derek Smith, D.J. Herring, Evan Walls, Isaiah O’Neal, Jameer Cook, Gavin Moncus, Ayden Cannon, Xavier Janney, Jonathan Echols, L.J. Green, Chance Curbow, RoRo Edmondson, Ethan Lawson, Coach Zerick Green, Kahlil Cofield, and Coach Tyler Napier 

(Lagrange, GA) — A tremendously exciting Region 5-AA basketball tournament came to an end Saturday afternoon in Lagrange where the Heard County Braves fell just short to hosting Callaway 62-55.

The Braves put forth an impressive effort versus an athletic Callaway squad leading by as many as five points in the first half before the Cavs took a 34-32 halftime lead on a half-court buzzer beater.

The Cavs would lead the rest of the game, but the title would not come easy as the Braves kept closing the gap.

In fact, the lead was just four points with 31.8 seconds to play in the game before the Cavs iced it with a pair of free throws with under 15 seconds remaining.

Senior Ayden Cannon led the scoring for the Braves with 11 points followed by freshman Jonathan Echols who had 10. Echols looked strong throughout the region tourney after missing most of the season with an injury.

Ethan Lawson and Isaiah O’Neal each scored nine points while D.J. Herring tallied seven and Kahlil Cofield had six. O’Neal and Jameer Cook were selected to the all-tournament team during the post game.

The runner-up finish earns the Braves a No. 2 seed in the GHSA Class AA State Playoffs. The Braves will host the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AA Rabun County in Franklin Wednesday night at 6:00 PM.

The winner of the first round game will go on to meet meet either Model (the No. 1 seed Region 7-AA) or KIPP Atlanta (the No. 4 seed in Region 6-AA) Saturday night. The Braves would travel to Model (Rome area) or host KIPP.

Coach Derek Smith came away with a very positive view of his much-improved Braves squad that will be hosting a state playoff game for the first time since 2016-2017.

“It was a great game, and it was a huge accomplishment for the guys especially the ones returning from getting only six wins and getting bludgeoned a lot last year to now playing for a region championship — it was such a huge improvement and sets up up for state which is what really matters,” said Smith after the game.

All-Tournament Braves Isaiah O’Neal (L) and Jameer Cook (R)

Smith was especially proud of one of his juniors that earned all-tourney after he missed last season.

“I’m especially proud of Jameer Cook, after not playing last year at all, and then coming in this year and turning into a leader and an anchor for the team,” Smith stated.

The second year Brave coach says consistency for an entire game will be a key to moving forward in the state tourney.

“We just need to put together four quarters. For two or three quarters we have looked as good as anyone in the state, but when you have one off quarter — especially one the defensive end — it’s high school basketball and you just can’t do that. But if we play four quarters I like our chances against anybody.”

Coach Smith says that he hopes to see his team rally in honor of missing teammate Tydarius “Ty” Smith this week as they head into the first round matchup versus the Wildcats.

Smith, a junior player for the Braves, was hospitalized in ICU  a couple of weeks ago with Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). He is out of the hospital and back at home but faces a long hard recovery and is unable to attend any games for the rest of the season.

“Luckily he’s not a senior and will have opportunity to come back and hopefully our guys can use this as motivation to understand that anybody’s season can end at any time — even through no fault of their own. So we hope to use that motivation and Ty’s strength to power us through state.”

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