McIntosh has a chance to keep stockpiling wins on top of an already record-breaking undefeated season.
The Chiefs have a chance to take one step closer to winning a highly coveted Region 4-AAAAA tournament championship.
The Peachtree City school also has an opportunity to get revenge on Mundy’s Mill. But don’t confuse the order. That game against Mundy’s Mill will be the sweetest of victories if the Chiefs can find a way to tame the Tigers for the third time this season.
Call me overly dramatic, but I think there’s a bit of sweet poetic justice involved in the fact that McIntosh will meet the team that ousted them in this same tournament last season. We’ve already told the tale about McIntosh’s abrupt ending to its 2013-14 campaign. A similarly talented squad as the one that now stands 26-0, McIntosh had a bad case of the yips, it seemed, whenever it came time to put a lesser talented team away in high stakes games.
Last year’s Mundy’s Mill game was a prime example of that. The Chiefs squandered a 20-point lead and lost 79-77 in the championship game. It was against a Mundy’s Mill squad that they’d already proven earlier in the year that they could beat — McIntosh had a 91-87 regular season win at Mundy’s Mill last year, a month before the region tourney.
But this year is different. McIntosh has shown two strong penchants this season that all championship caliber teams need to have:
The penchant for pummeling teams you’re supposed to beat. And the penchant for finding a way to win the close ones.
Let’s analyze these a little bit:
Penchant 1: When you look at the Chiefs’ schedule this season, you see less of the squeakers that were littered across last year’s slate of games, and more cases where coach Jason Eisele’s talent-laden squad ran away with the games they should’ve run away with.
McIntosh’s average margin of victory this season? 17 points. That indicates the Chiefs, more times than not, have been taking care of business in games. Getting out to good leads and holding them. They’ve done a better job of jumping on teams and not letting up, even when a game seems in doubt.
I saw this first hand a couple of weeks ago when McIntosh defeated a not-so-great Northgate team soundly. Thoroughly. Completely. And even when there was an opportunity for McIntosh to lose focus, it didn’t. That’s why they’re at 25-0.
But let’s take a look at Penchant No. 2: To be sure, there were some squeakers, and some close games against lesser talented teams, just like last year. Case in point: A December 5 tilt at Forest Park — a team that didn’t achieve a winning record this season.
The Panthers battled McIntosh hard before succumbing to a 57-54 loss. Some would look at that and say the Chiefs should’ve won it by 20 or more. Maybe so. But any coach will tell you of the task and utter chore it is to try and keep adolescent hoopers focused and game-ready night in and night out. Things happen.
Plus, when you’re McIntosh and you’re undefeated, you’ve got a big green and white bulls-eye painted on your backs. Everyone’s giving you their best shot. But the Chiefs found a way to win it.
They did the same two weeks later in a three-point win over a very good Sandy Creek bunch. Then again against Hillgrove and Allatoona in the post-Christmas Lake City Classic Tournament. Not surprisingly, it was about this time when Eisele realized he might have something special here.
“When we went through that tournament up in Allatoona around Christmas, we knew we had a good team,” he said. “We knew then it was just a matter of staying focused and keep playing the way we were capable. And if we did that, we knew we’d have a chance to be really good.”
Forget really good. The Chiefs are flirting with elite status right now. They left no doubt against that pesky Forest Park squad in this season’s region tournament. And now comes Mundy’s Mill. But here’s the kicker about the Jonesboro school: The Tigers (19-7, 13-5) are much improved as well under first-year head coach Michael Elliot. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell during the two teams’ other two meetings this season.
McIntosh won those two contests by a combined score of 152-101 — that’s a 25.1 average margin of victory. The second game was at Mundy’s Mill, where, in retrospect, the Tigers probably should’ve hidden their 2013-14 Region 4-AAAAA championship banner before tip off.
Seeing that banner in the Mundy’s Mill rafters was the thing that more than a few Chiefs — coach included — said pushed their motivation over the top.
Well, tonight at 8:30 p.m. when the two teams meet again on a neutral site at Drew, this time to decide who will play for a region crown, that piece of motivation won’t be there. No matter, though. I don’t think McIntosh will need it.
Is there a team in Class AAAAA that can put this unprecedented string of single-season basketball dominance to an end? Perhaps. But my educated guess tells me that it won’t be Mundy’s Mill.
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. An award-winning sportswriter, Stovall has been covering sports in parts of the Southern Crescent for four years. You can follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1. Also catch us on Twitter @crescent_buzz.