After winning three of four games and surging into a tie for first place in the region, the George Walton Academy boys dropped a heartbreaker to Athens Christian at the Nicholson Center Tuesday night, 65-61.
With the loss, and a game scheduled against league favorite Tallulah Falls Friday night, the Bulldogs face an uphill climb to get back into the race for the regular season Region 8-A private title.
But it hardly diminished what first-year head coach Matt Reynolds has accomplished in a short time with the Bulldogs. The pandemic limited off-season workouts and the success of the Bulldogs football teams — they reached the third round of the state playoffs — left Reynolds little time to put his first team together.
Nonetheless, just over halfway through the season, GWA (5-7, 2-1 Region 8-A private) has already won two more games than it did all of last year. Given that GHSA reclassification shrunk Region 8-A to just six teams, the Bulldogs are well-positioned to snap a nine-year state tournament drought.
“As a program, we’ve not had a lot of success lately,” Reynolds said. “But I think things are coming together.”
The boys have faced a grueling non-region schedule, opening with Class AAAAA Loganville, facing Class AAA Oconee County twice, and traveling to Class A private Providence Academy. All three are ranked among the top 15 in their classifications, with Providence coming in at No. 2.
In both Oconee games, the Bulldogs led at the half, but faded at the end.
In Tuesday’s loss, GWA hung close for three quarters, trailing by just 3 at the half and drawing within a single point midway through the third. But the Eagles pulled away in the fourth.
“We’re just learning how to finish, to play all four quarters,” Reynolds said.
Like in Reynolds’ time at GWA, when he and Bart Benton were a potent backcourt combo, these Bulldogs are led by a pair of guards. Junior Noah Hicks is tops on the teams with 17 points a game. But junior Kennedy Johnson can take over a game as well.
In a 78-70 win over Loganville Christian, he poured in a career best 36 points. In Tuesday’s loss to Athens Christian, he tallied 28.
“They’ve both been really consistent for us.” Reynolds said.
Johnson was one of three to score in double figures against Athens Christian. David Lalaian and Reese Gelsthorpe each scored 10.
On the girls side, the Lady Bulldogs (3-5, 1-1 Region 8-A private) snapped a four-game skid and rolled past Athens Christian 41-27 to stay in a three-way tie for second place in the league.
Sophomore guard Elizabeth Jahns led all scorers with 15 points and freshman Catherine Atkinson added eight.
Their next two games — against Tallulah on Friday and Prince Avenue on Tuesday — will be against the teams they are tied with.
“We’re just trying to be the best team we can be by Feb. 9,” said Lady Bulldogs head coach Lori Hines, referring to the start of the region tournament.