The stage might be rather foreign, but the contending teams provide a familiar feel.
For the first time since the 1996-1997 season, the Curtis Baptist boys basketball team has reached the state semifinals.
Its region also fills up most of the remaining field, taking up three of the four spots in the GISA Class AA state semifinals.
“It’s exciting for our school,” Curtis Baptist coach John Spurlock said. “I think some of the younger kids are saying, ‘Wow, it can be done.’”
The Crusaders (19-12) play fellow region 2-AA member Frederica – the defending state champion – in the semifinals. It’s the third time the two teams meet this season, with Curtis Baptist winning the first game by a point.
But the season’s last matchup is the most important with a spot in the championship game up for grabs. The two play at 5:30 p.m. today at Georgia College & State University. The winner then goes for the state title at 5 p.m. Saturday, also at Georgia College & State University.
Having faced Frederica two times this season, the Crusaders know what to expect: a full-court trap and zone defense.
But four seniors start for Curtis Baptist, and two more feature prominently off the bench. The veteran leadership comes from players like Ian Gonder, who averages more than seven points per game and is second on the team with 24 3-pointers made.
Besides coming out with intensity from the start – something he believes wasn’t the case in the loss to Frederica – Gonder sees smart shot selection as a factor.
Spurlock, who said zone defenses are nothing new to his team thanks to region play, agrees with Gonder.
“They play a zone, like Syracuse,” the coach said. “They get in it and they stay in it.”
Another senior, Cole Swanson, said rebounding will also be important. Swanson puts up 10.4 points and 6.1 boards every game and sees tonight as bigger than simply fulfilling the goals of a senior-led bunch.
“It’s not just for us,” he said. “It’s for the kids on the team, the school and the families who come to watch us.”