BY CHRIS GOLTERMANN
This wasn’t the way the East Coweta Indians basketball team had hoped to end the 2018-19 basketball season.
Or was it?
Only in Hollywood do Norman Dale’s Hickory Huskers get to walk off the court victorious in the final game. And yes, the fictional retelling of Milan High’s 1958 victory over Muncie Central was based loosely off fact.
But East Coweta kept it real in seeing through goals they set in place long before the season began for a program that was simply trying to climb the ladder from one win in 2014-15 to five to 14 and 13, respectively, over the last two calendar years.
With everyone back on board, head coach Royal Maxwell said following an opening scrimmage that his Indians were “shooting for the stars.”
In so many ways, his basketball program truly reached a new stratosphere even if three straight losses, capped off by No. 1 state-ranked McEachern’s 89-54 effort to begin the Class 7A playoffs, brought them back down to Earth.
True, East Coweta’s final three games weren’t nothing like it’s first three wins, or it’s next three. Or a three-game stretch of region victories where it defeated Westlake, Pebblebrook and Wheeler — region programs that had a combined record of 39-2 against the Indians before this year.
As much as they suffered through three losses to close a 24-4 season. East Coweta found itself with something the program had earned after four long years.
The Indians should carry it onward after six seniors paved the way in 2018-19 and set standards not seen since Class 7A East Coweta on Highway 154 was little ole’ East Coweta on Highway 16.
They strived to win every game at home. They did that.
They wanted to make a statement in Region 2-7A. They did that too.
And most importantly, they wanted to make the state playoffs for the first time under head coach Maxwell’s leadership.
So Friday, there they were right where they wanted to be, even if it wasn’t quite with the engine running on all cylinders as it had during a 24-1 regular season.
Undefeated McEachern (28-0) was as impressive as its resume heading into the postseason, scoring seven unanswered points starting with Sharife Cooper’s opening basket.
Cooper’s 42-point effort was no match for an opposing Indians squad that was limping into the state playoffs in more ways than one.
With senior and leading scorer Mandez Jones limited by a heavily taped ankle that kept him off the floor for the entire first quarter and another key contributor unable to go, the odds were even further stacked against East Coweta by the time they saw through their season goals.
It’s core of eight players hampered, the team tried to hang in early, closing a gap to 12-6 before Cooper and company pulled away on its home floor.
McEachern led 26-10 after one quarter and East Coweta did everything it could to stay within contention at halftime, down 45-28 after junior Chris Youngblood scored nine of his 13 points prior to the break.
A 19-5 surge in the third by McEachern, however, ended any further hopes as its lead hit 36 points by the start of the final eight minutes of East Coweta’s season.
Barring some unforeseen upset, the sting of two consecutive Region 2-7A tournament losses after carrying a No. 1 seed will be replaced with the notion that these Indians ended its year walking off the floor against the best high school team in Georgia.
Whether the location was in Macon or Cobb County shouldn’t matter.
Juniors Youngblood and Brandon Stroud will have a chance to continue the steady progress of East Coweta’s program in 2019-20 after finishing with 13 and 9 point efforts that had both players fouling out. Junior Rakiyan Moss equally showed he could be ready to step in next year after playing above his season average in minutes.The senior class is equally in a good place after seeing things through to the finish. Along with guards Jones, Derrick Emory and Isaiah Richardson, a trio of post players Rhet Reynolds (7 points), Zac Hill (5 points) and Demetrius Freeman (4 points) paved the way.