Three words echoed through each player's minds on the Josey boys basketball team Saturday night.
Those infamous words, "It's tournament time, It's tournament time and it's tournament time" came straight from the mouth of coach Emmett Rouse before his Eagles played Thomas County Central in the first round of the state basketball tournament at Richmond Academy.
His pep talk had the Eagles pumped, and after a sluggish first quarter, Josey flew past Thomas County Central 70-46 to earn a berth in next weekend's state sectionals in Albany, Ga. The Eagles will meet Columbus on Friday at 4 p.m.
After a year's absence from the state tournament, Laney's Lady Wildcats are back after a convincing 60-47 victory against Westover in the first contest of the afternoon.
Laney now heads to the state sectionals at Jones County High School in Gray, Ga., where they will meet Shaw at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Fans at the boys nightcap were treated to one of the better basketball games Josey has played all season. The preseason Class AAA No. 1 Eagles built a sizable lead in the second quarter, and were never seriously challenged the rest of the way. Rouse hopes his team is peaking at the right time.
"I like our chances (in state) because I know we have the talent, we just haven't come together as a unit yet," he said. "We played a little better and that was one of the better games we've played this year. But it's by far not the best game we can play."
The Eagles had just seven players score in the game, but four of those placed in double figures. Josey was led by Cornelius Mitchell's 18 points and Robert Wilson's 16.
Josey trailed the Jackets 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but the Eagles forced three turnovers to start the second quarter en route to an 11-0 run to make it 25-17 on a three-point play from Wilson.
Josey led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, and led 35-27 at halftime. Any hopes of a Thomas County Central comeback ended midway through the third, when the Eagles used a 12-0 run, capped by an alley-oop dunk from Marvin Stone to make it 56-33.
"I told them (before the game) that it's do or die, you lose and you go home," Rouse said. "They're not ready to quit and I'm not ready to go home either. But at times, we got too fancy tonight. I mean, the dunks and stuff were coming so easy at times, but I thought we started trying to make things happen."
In the girls game, Westover hung with Laney for the first two quarters, but the Lady Wildcats gradually pulled away in the third. They outscored Westover 11-7 over the third, but when Laney's Ernesia Wideman sank three free throws to end the third quarter, the Lady Patriots never got back in gear.
A 10-4 run to start the fourth quarter pushed Laney's lead to 16 points at 50-34 on a layup by Wideman. Then the Lady Wildcats built their biggest lead of the contest at 60-41 with 1:44 left in the game.
Laney placed four players in double figures, including freshman Sheena Freeman who led the team with 16 points.