There is an old adage that says when it comes to playoff basketball, anything can happen.
On Monday night, that adage stayed true to form as both the Putnam County boys and girls teams fought to victory in the first round of the 4-AA region tournament at Putnam County High School, advancing in the tournament.
But more importantly, the War Eagles hoops program punched their respective tickets to the first round of the state Class AA tournament.
In the girls game, the Lady War Eagles (10-10, 7-7) utilized timely scoring and a blistering second half defense to dispatch Oglethorpe County 39-22. In the nightcap, the War Eagles (11-8, 8-6) continued to show signs of peaking at the right time in a hard fought 62-52 win over Jefferson County.
“Defense is what won that game for us,” said Putnam girls head coach Jerusha Hudson. “We were able to stop them from cutting through the lane and we knew we had to do that coming in.”
Scoring was at a premium in the first half as Putnam held a slim 16-15 lead at intermission. Oglethorpe tied the contest at 12-12 at the 3:27 mark of the second quarter but in the end, that would be as close as they would get.
In the decisive third quarter, the Lady War Eagles stymied Oglethorpe and didn’t allow a bucket until the end of the quarter, leading at the buzzer 32-17.
In the final five minutes of the game, Putnam woke up on offense and went on a 7-2 run to close the game out with the 39-22 win.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” said Hudson. “This is a young group of girls and they are learning. I can see the progress from when we started to where we are now. Show me the growth and I’m satisfied.”
The War Eagles, under first year head coach LaPatrick Marshall, came out a little timid and quickly found themselves trailing 11-4 at the mid-way point of the first quarter. Waking from their slumber in the final two minutes, Putnam closed the quarter strong and pulled to within 18-13.
The momentum carried into the second frame as the War Eagles rode Michael Little and Eren Banks on a 16-4 run and took the quarter 22-9 to lead 35-27 at the break. The Putnam defense showed its teeth in the second quarter, holding Jefferson scoreless until 3:38 was left on the clock.
Jefferson County apparently heard the message from the coaching staff at halftime and came out firing to narrow Putnam’s edge to 35-33. A 3-point bucket trimmed the War Eagle advantage to 37-36 and Putnam appeared to be staggering and on the ropes.
With 4:15 left in the third stanza, a thunderous Banks dunk ignited the small crowd and propelled Putnam on another run that resulted in a 48-40 margin with one quarter to play.
In those final minutes, Jefferson pulled within 50-47 with five minutes to go, but a 10-point Putnam run sealed the deal and the 62-52 win to the delight of those in attendance.
“That was a big win for our program,” said an ecstatic Marshall. “That was huge. They have worked so hard, they deserved this win.”
Eren Banks led Putnam in scoring with 21 points but it was his quiet leadership that made a difference.
“He leads us from a quiet standpoint,” said Marshall. “The team just gravitates to him, Malik Thornton and Michael Little. All of these guys play together as one and we saw that [tonight].”
In Marshall’s first year at the helm of War Wagle basketball, Monday night was special for the excitable coach.
“This is special for me,” he said. “My first year here and expectations may have been down but I told everyone we were going to come play for a win every night.
“These kids are hungry. As a coach, it makes my job easy when the kids want to do well. I just provide a culture and show leadership and when these kids take to it, we’ll make some noise. We are going to enjoy this win because we punched our ticket to the state playoffs and we deserve to celebrate [tonight].”