VALDOSTA -- Every Wildcat and every Viking knows that Valdosta-Lowndes is a huge rivalry -- no matter what the sport, no matter the importance of the game, no matter how good or bad the teams are.
But something much more important than bragging rights is at stake in the VHS-LHS boys basketball game Friday night. At this point, both teams want a region win, and the momentum that can accompany a win heading into the region tournament and the playoffs.
The boys game, which starts at 8:30 p.m. in the VHS Gym, will have a large effect on the Region 1-AAAAA standings. The winner will claim third place in the region, while the loser will be the fourth seed.
Lowndes (14-5, 4-4) sits in third place in the region at 4-4, while Valdosta is just a half-game behind at 4-5. A win would wrap up third place for Valdosta (13-8, 4-5), because the Wildcats would have swept the Vikings in region play.
On the other hand, if Lowndes won, it would have a 5-4 region record, and would mathematically wrap up third, no matter what happens in its game with Colquitt County Saturday night.
"This game is for third place in the region," Valdosta head coach John Miller said. "If we win, we get third, and if they win, they're third and we're fourth."
"I've told the kids that we're approaching these two games like we have to win both," Lowndes head coach Cliff Ranew said. "I want to see how we play with our backs against the wall. This is where we need to step up and start playing more consistent, and at the level we're capable of playing at."
The difference between finishing third and finishing fourth this year is big, Miller says. The third-place team will play last-place Lee County, which is winless this season, in the first round of next week's region tournament. Meanwhile, the fourth-place team must play fifth-place Colquitt -- on the Packers' home court.
"This is huge, because Colquitt County is playing well right now, and the game would be on their floor," Miller said. "We don't want to face them if we don't have to. If we were third, we'd get to play Lee County in the first game."
Valdosta will have the home court advantage this time, which Miller hopes will help his team. But the VHS coach points out that Lowndes is the team trying to avenge a loss, which could be an advantage for the Vikings.
"Sometimes a team that's been beaten is hungrier the next time," Miller said. "But it comes down to how the young men on the floor play that night."
"We didn't play well here against Valdosta," Ranew said. "We have to play better (Friday); it's that simple. We're good enough to beat anyone in our region. But we're not consistent enough. Right now, you have to play good basketball, or your season's going to be over real quick."
Last month, Valdosta defeated Lowndes on the Vikings' home court, 51-44. The Wildcats came in focused, and led most of the game, in one of their most consistent performances of the season. Valdosta forward Chauncey Jones had one of his best games, scoring a game-high 20 points.
"It didn't surprise me Valdosta beat us here," Ranew said. "We didn't play well, and Valdosta's a good team. You have to play well against them."
Neither team played well the first time the teams met, in Thomasville in December. Valdosta led most of the game, but Terrance Vinson's dunk with four seconds left gave Lowndes a 33-31 victory and the Thomasville Holiday Hoopfest title.
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