Dalton (21-7) at Redan (21-2), 6
Hart County (9-19) at Sonoraville (26-1), 6
North Murray (17-11) at Elbert County (21-7), 6
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (13-15) at North Oconee (26-2), 6
Westminster (8-19) at Calhoun (24-1), 6
Dade County (21-6) at Greater Atlanta Christian (20-7), 6
Marist (17-7) at Northwest Whitfield (18-8), 6
CALHOUN, Ga. - A quick glance at the bracket for the Georgia Class AAA girls' state basketball tournament reveals the usual suspects in the usual positions. Buford, Washington, St. Pius X, North Oconee and Decatur all have been there and are expected to make deep playoff runs.
Then there's Sonoraville, which at 26-1 has the best record in the field. But the Phoenix lack history, and they hope to begin taking care of that tonight when they host Hart County in the program's first state-tournament appearance.
"We've been so close the last three years, losing in triple-overtime last year in the region tournament, so the girls are very excited to not only make it this year but to also win the region," said Sonoraville coach Stephanie Caudell, whose senior-laden team routed Cartersville by 42 points in the Region 5-AAA final Saturday. "We're not, though, just happy to be there, but we'll see where we stand after Tuesday's game."
On paper the matchup against Hart County (9-19) doesn't seem formidable, but the Lady Bulldogs have a strong playoff history. Getting over that first hurdle, records aside, won't be easy for the Phoenix.
"They have two quick guards who are tough defensively and are their main offensive threats," Caudell said. "I hope our girls don't take the record into account, because records don't mean anything now. One bad game and you're out."
The matchup should be a good one for Sonoraville, though, as the Phoenix have their own trouble-making guard in senior Payton Smith, who Saturday had 13 points, 10 assists and 10 steals. Those numbers have become commonplace for the 5-foot-7 point guard.
"She's a three-year starter whose improvement this year is the single biggest reason for our success," Caudell said. "She is a terror on defense and gets her hands on more loose balls than anyone I've ever seen. She's averaging six steals per game, and she's had several with 10 or more."
Sonoraville also has size in 6-foot-2 junior Carrie Cheeks, the team's leading scorer and rebounder at 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. Senior forward Jennilee Gentry can also be counted on for double figures each night on a team that goes nine or 10 deep. Payton, for one, believes the Phoenix have everything they need to succeed in the postseason.
"We have a lot of quality players, but the biggest thing is we're very close as a team," she said. "I think it's also good that nobody in the state knows us, so they don't know what to expect. We know we belong in the tournament, and now we want to prove it."
The path for a long run isn't easy for the Phoenix. They likely would face Decatur in the second round and North Oconee in the quarterfinals.
Sonoraville is one of seven northwest Georgia girls' teams in action tonight and Wednesday. Northwest Whitfield, the 7-AAAA runner-up, will face Marist on Wednesday, with the other teams playing tonight. The Class A brackets will be posted Wednesday, with play starting Friday.