Hoops where coach's heart is

For the past 12 seasons, Tracey Gamble has coached three high school sports. The appeal of dealing with just basketball was enough to lure him away from the Richmond County school where he has coached for a decade.

Gamble, who coached the Cross Creek boys basketball team since the 2000-01 season, is leaving for the same position at Orangeburg-Wilkinson in Orangeburg, S.C. He led the Razorbacks to a Region 3-AAAA runner-up finish this season and the first home playoff game in school history.

"Coaching three sports was getting to a point that was pretty exhausting," said Gamble, who coached basketball, track and football at Cross Creek.

Gamble said he will not coach football at Orangeburg-Wilkinson, and there's a chance he would have to coach cross country.

Gamble was in Orangeburg on Thursday signing his contract. He graduated from Manning (S.C.) High School in 1990 and went to The Citadel.

He informed Cross Creek players of his decision Wednesday.

"Right now, Cross Creek is still in my blood," Gamble said. "One message I want my principal and team to know: this has nothing to do with Cross Creek. This had to do with the people in Orangeburg. It was a good opportunity."

FRESH START: John Noah was stopped in the Josey High School library Thursday morning by someone who thought it was his birthday.

For someone wearing a suit and tie, wielding a wide smile and carrying a heavily frosted cake, it was a good guess. It wasn't Noah's birthday, though, rather a celebration for him being named Josey's new football coach.

Josey held a ceremony in front of current and former players to introduce the coach, which Noah said felt rewarding.

"I felt like a college coach or something," said Noah, an assistant at the school since 2004. "You work hard, sometimes you don't think anyone notices. This was nice."

Twice in a brief conversation he said "this is not going to be an overnight turnaround," in reference to the fact Josey hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, the longest drought in Richmond County. Josey had only 32 players at the end of last season. Sixteen were seniors.

"The first thing you have to do is get the kids interested in athletics," Noah said. "It's a numbers game, and we're losing the numbers game badly."

STICKY SITUATION: All four baseball playoff bids in Region 3-AAAA are set. The order for Westside, Lakeside, Harlem and Evans is far from complete.

In fact, there exists a scenario where all four could tie for the championship, which would bring in a complicated tiebreaking scenario.

Westside and Harlem are tied for first place at 13-2 entering today. Lakeside is 12-2; Evans is 12-3. If there are no upsets among the top four teams (none has lost to the region's other six teams this season), Harlem beats Lakeside on Saturday and splits with Westside next week, all four teams would finish 15-3.

Harlem and Westside meet next Tuesday and Wednesday in a two-game series -- their first game was rained out -- that should have a postseason feel. State playoffs begin May 8.

ANOTHER SHUTOUT: After its 5-0 dispatch of Ola in the first round of the playoffs this week, the Lakeside boys soccer team extended its shutout streak to more than two months. The last time someone scored on the Panthers was Feb. 14, 15 games ago.

A road win over Thomas County Central on Wednesday would move the Panthers into the quarterfinals. If Marist, a strong Atlanta team, defeats Habersham Central, Lakeside will play at home May 2.

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

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