Sprayberry boys basketball coach Marc Carver knew there would be some growing pains during the 2019-20 season.
Three of the Yellow Jackets’ four projected returning starters moved out of the district. Only one player on the roster was taller than 6-foot, and they had to play in a competitive Region 6AAAAAA.
However, the one thing Carver knew his team had was time.
He knew the regular season was in place to decide seeding for the region tournament, and winning games in the tournament was what counted.
That is the way the Yellow Jackets qualified for the Class AAAAAA state playoffs with a 5-21 record. Sprayberry did it by beating Harrison 41-39 on Wednesday in the quarterfinal round of the region tournament at Allatoona.
“We knew we were going to get a reprieve,” Carver said. “When you get to the region tournament, everyone is 0-0, and there wasn’t a game this year where we were getting beat by 30 points.”
Carver said Sprayberry was in games all season long, but the players did not know how to finish. However, something began to change when the calendar turned to January.
The games the Yellow Jackets had been losing by 15 points earlier in the season were now single-digit losses. For the year, Sprayberry lost 10 games by seven or fewer points.
The Yellow Jackets ended the regular season on a 10-game losing streak, but four of those games were decided by a single basket, including a three-point loss to a 20-win Pope team in a non-region game.
When the region tournament started, Sprayberry got the reprieve it needed.
“Finally, against Dalton, we got on top,” Carver said about the Yellow Jackets’ 65-60 win in the first round. “They were the ones that missed the shots in the end.”
On Wednesday night, Sprayberry faced Harrison with the state playoff berth on the line. John Jenkins scored 10 points, Saigon Kitt and Josh O’Donoghue each had eight and Matt Jones had a career-high seven as the Yellow Jackets built a 12-point fourth-quarter lead.
Sprayberry struggled down the stretch, allowing Harrison to get closer. The Hoyas had a chance to win the game with a half-court shot at the buzzer, but it was off the mark and the Yellow Jackets held on.
“I have to give the guys credit,” Carver said. “They weren’t very experienced. We are limited in the post, and we had only one starter returning. They have continued to improve, and now we’re here.”
Sprayberry will play top-seeded South Cobb (23-2), the No. 4 team in Class AAAAAA, on Friday in the first of two semifinal games at Sequoyah. The Eagles won the first two matchups with the Yellow Jackets thos season by 13 and 14 points.
The winner of Friday’s game will secure a home game in the first round of the state playoffs and a chance at the region championship against either Allatoona or Sequoyah.
Sprayberry has secured at least three more games, and it is an experience Carver hopes the team will be able to use heading into next season.
“They will all be tough games,” Carver said, “but we shouldn’t have to worry about being in this situation again next year.”