With four key seniors graduating from last year’s team, the Yellow Jackets knew they would be young and inexperienced. Sprayberry’s youthful team answered one important question over the weekend — it can win a Region 7AAAAA title.
That’s exactly what the Yellow Jackets (19-9) did for the first time in 23 seasons Saturday on their own floor when they beat Creekview 58-56 at the buzzer on a Torrey Richardson layup off a steal.
Now Sprayberry will be hosting Tucker in the first round of the Class AAAAA state tournament Wednesday.
“It almost seems surreal,” Sprayberry coach Marc Carver said on winning a region championship. “From where we came from last summer to winning a region championship is a long stretch. Certainly no one expected us to win region at the start of the season.”
Carver admitted that this year’s team was the least talented group in the seven years he’s been at Sprayberry. But this group made up for it when they bought into the system and played hard for all four quarters.
The first time he saw true character in his team was during its 63-61 loss to Pope on Jan. 25. The Yellow Jackets trailed by as many as 32 points in the game before unleashing a furious second half comeback to get within one.
Another character defining moment for Sprayberry came in the 7AAAAA final against Creekview when it trailed by five points in the fourth quarter.
Armel Potter, who was named 7AAAAA player of the year, hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 24 seconds left, and just before Richardson delivered the game-winning layup.
Sprayberry can play defense, keeping most teams in the 50s or lower. With little height on the roster, the Yellow Jackets use their speed to put pressure on teams with the idea of forcing the tempo and creating turnovers.
When they host Tucker in Wednesday’s opening round of the state playoffs, the Yellow Jackets will face a taller opponent, led by 6-foot-6, Texas A&M-bound Devonte Fitzgerald.
“We just have to play hard,” said Potter, who scored 26 points in Sprayberry’s championship win Saturday. “We’ve been winning the last few games on defense, and if we can keep that up, the offense is going to come.”
Pope wrapped up the No. 3 seed out of 7AAAAAA and will be on the road at Stephenson. Allatoona, who claimed the No. 3 spot out of Region 5AAAAA, is in the same bracket and will open at Salem on Wednesday. A win by both teams would set up an all-Cobb matchup in Round 2.
In Class AAAAAA, the North Cobb boys, who came from behind to beat Hillgrove 48-42 and claim the Region 4AAAAAA title, will host Coffee County on Wednesday. The Warriors have been without Saxon Steele for over a month to injury and Jordan Neff is day-to-day as of Saturday.
Hillgrove will host Valdosta as 4AAAAAA’s No. 2 seed. Campbell, which beat McEachern 80-78 in five overtimes to earn the region’s No. 3 seed, is heading to Brunswick. McEachern will travel to Tift County.
Following a tough loss to Cherokee prior to the Region 5AAAAAA tournament, Wheeler bounced back strong and ended up taking the title Saturday with a 74-60 win over host Roswell behind 17 points from Jaylen Brown.
The Wildcats will host Dacula to begin their state tournament run. Walton, which ended up No.4 in the region, will play at Shiloh.