VALDOSTA -- What's the difference between two and three?
In the world of Region 1-AAAAA basketball, plenty. Finish as the second seed (or even the first seed) when the regular season ends next Saturday, and you've earned plenty.
The top two seeds earn an first-round bye in the region tournament, scheduled for Feb. 12-14 in Moultrie. That also gives the top teams a pass into the first round of the state tournament (Feb. 20-21 in Tifton).
Finish third (or lower) and you have to play that region first-round game. And you have to win it to know you'll advance to state (the top four teams in each region advance). And if you want a chance to win region, it would take the lower-seeded teams three wins in three days to pull off the feat.
So there's still plenty on the line in these last five dates of region play, starting tonight with the last full slate of three doubleheaders.
The focus tonight will be on the Valdosta area, where the region leaders coming calling. Tift County, which is unbeaten, ranked No. 4 in Class AAAAA and leads the boys standings at 7-0, is at Valdosta.
Coffee goes to Lowndes in a battle of four teams seeking those top two spots. Coffee's girls are unbeaten in region play (6-0), while Coffee's boys are ranked No. 7 in Class AAAAA. It's Senior Night at LHS tonight.
The varsity doubleheaders are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
"It's extremely important to get into the top two," said Lowndes girls coach Stacy Dickey. "You can go to region and relax and play, and not worry about going to state."
And in girls play, Dickey said it's important to take the worry out of the mix.
"Everybody in our region is so even. Anybody can beat anybody." she said.
By the end of the weekend, Tift County (7-0) can take a big step toward clinching the regular-season title. But that effort includes the game tonight at Valdosta, then a home game Saturday with Coffee.
Tift County finishes region play the following Saturday with a home game vs. winless Lee County.
Lowndes (4-3) begins play today a half-game back of Coffee (4-2). A win tonight would put the Vikings in second place, and a Coffee loss on Saturday could give LHS a little bit of a cushion between it and Coffee.
And that may be necessary. Lowndes finishes on the road at Valdosta (next Friday) and at Colquitt County (next Saturday). Coffee hosts Colquitt County Tuesday, then goes to Lee County next Friday.
An upset of Tift County would boost Valdosta's chances of reaching the top half of the standings. Valdosta (3-4) finishes with home games against Lee County (Tuesday) and Lowndes (next Friday). Two losses and the Wildcats may end up fighing with Colquitt County to see which team wears the white jerseys in the region tournament's 4-5 game -- as well as a probable region semifinal game with Tift County.
Coffee (6-0) can finish no lower than third, while Lowndes (5-2) and Colquitt County (5-2) each need a win to say that as well.
Unless Coffee falters, next Saturday's Lowndes at Colquitt County game may decide the region's No. 2 seed. Both teams still have to play Coffee, though only Lowndes doesn't have a game with winless Lee County (0-6) left.
"We need three wins," Dickey said. "If we give up one, we may finish third."
Tonight's game at Valdosta High is that fight for the Nos. 4-5 spots in the region. Both teams are 2-5 in region play.
Both Valdosta and Lowndes still have non-region games left on their schedules. Both play at home Saturday, Valdosta vs. Glynn Academy (varsity games at 6 p.m.) and Lowndes vs. St. Augustine (varsity games at 4 p.m.).
Valdosta hosts Cook High next Saturday.
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