CALHOUN, Ga. - Monday was a busy day for Vince Layson. The Calhoun High School basketball coach apparently was unprepared for the avalanche of attention brought his way following Saturday's shocking semifinal win over Vidalia.
In retrospect, the Yellow Jackets' young coach should have known not to expect anything usual involving this season.
"The guys just seem to surprise me every game," Layson said about the 54-41 win over previously undefeated Vidalia. "I told them earlier in the season I thought they were a Final Four team, but they proved me wrong. They're in the finals and I'm not going to underestimate them again. A lot of people have been calling me today wanting to see what we're about."
The 24-2 Jackets, who face top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian in Friday's 4:45 championship game in Macon, did to Vidalia what they've done to each of their four stat- tournament opponents -- dominate the fourth period. Calhoun trailed by one going into the final quarter, when the team's trademark defense took over.
"Really, our defense kept us in the game early when we struggled to score, but once the fourth quarter started we just took it up a notch," said guard Jireh Wilson, who tied for team scoring honors with 12 points. "I guess it's just our mindset. We have a switch that gets turned on in the fourth quarter, and we just play better."
The Jackets have outscored their opponents 90-44 in the final eight minutes in the four playoff games, something Layson says is part veteran leadership and part will to win.
"It's hard to explain, but these guys just seem to be able to pick it up when it gets late," said Layson, whose rotation goes only seven deep. "Our conditioning was a definite difference the other night. Vidalia had been beating people by 40, and we felt they hadn't been challenged for four quarters of basketball and that if we could keep it close we would win."
Calhoun also again displayed its overall balance. Senior forward Austin Byrd tied Wilson with 12 points (while also pulling down 24 rebounds), while Chandler Curtis had 11 points and the team's leading scorer for the season, guard Kaelen Riley, had nine. The Jackets rarely have anyone score more than 20 points, and it's not uncommon to get four and even five players in double figures.
"You hear coaches say it all the time, but it's very true here: This team does not care who scores the most points or makes the headlines," Layson said. "As long as we win -- that's all they care about."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.