Saline boys beat Atlanta to win District 2C

There is an old adage that it is hard to beat a team three times in a row. The Saline vs Atlanta playoff game to determine the district 2C championship is an example of why this is one of the statements that has been tried countless of times and remains to be true. 

In a thrilling contest that was complete with everything from a tightly contested battle between two long time rivals, a gritty late rally and a controversial finish, Saline beat Atlanta 44-43 in the one game, winner take all, showdown played at Dodson High School on Saturday.

Over the first two quarters the bitter rivals battled to a virtual standstill, with Saline leading by one after the first and Atlanta taking a 25-24 lead into the break. After three periods Saline led 33-30 but Atlanta rallied to take a 41-36 lead with just a little over three minutes to play. 

After Gavin Dailey made a layup to give him 11 points in the contest tying him with Wesley Crawford for team high scorer, Saline coach Klint Robinson called timeout to employ his team’s vaunted full-court pressure defense. A steal and two Atlanta turnovers were the result that sent Jacob Jones, Shawn Staggs and Will Dison to the line for a pair of crucial free throws each. Calmly the trio sank all six giving Saline a 44-41 lead with just 16 seconds left on the clock. With eight ticks to go Atlanta narrowed the margin to one setting up the controversial finish.

With time winding down and underneath the Atlanta goal, the Saline player just held the ball showing no intention to try and put the ball in play. For the record a team has five seconds to get the ball in play. The clock showed five, four, then three, but no call was made. With the Atlanta fans screaming at the oversight by the refs the clock continued to run down to two, then one second, before time out was called. Still no call from the refs had been made. Both coaches were then called to center court where it was determined that Atlanta would be awarded the ball but only seven tenths of a second was put on the clock. An attempt to lob it in for a desperation tip in was denied by Shawn Staggs who skied high to grab the ball. by the time he came down the game was over. 

The victory improves the Bobcats overall record to 20-14 and completes one of the better rags to riches stories that even an Oscar Award winning movie director would have trouble dreaming up. To understand how impressive Saline’s district title winning campaign is you have to flash back to the first month of the season. Over the first six days Saline lost four games, the closest being by ten points. A victory over Weston provided a brief respite but then four more games were lost over the next eight days. Again, Saline was beat handily in all but one.

Heading into the Thanksgiving holidays Saline was floundering with a 1-8 record but the 10 day break gave head coach Klint Robinson a chance to get his players back in the gym to work on some glaring issues. Pardon the pun, but Robinson was “thankful” for the practice time as it dramatically changed the course of the season. 

“We weren’t doing very many things good at the start of the season,” reflected an elated Robinson following the impressive victory. “The guys were giving a good physical effort but I think them seeing where we needed to improve, like our shot selection and being more aggressive defense helped us after the break.”

In the first game back Saline lost again, this time by a six point margin to Arcadia in the Bienville Parish Tournament. Despite the loss Robinson was encouraged as he noticed a major improvement in his teams play.

“It really lifted my spirts to see how we played in that game as it was easy to see that we were a much better team than before the break,” said Robinson. “It gave me hope that we might have a good shot at being pretty good by the end of the year and the guys have proven that to be true.”

That “hope” was quickly evidenced through five straight wins over a five day period and 8 victories in 10 games as the Bobcats escalated from the pits of despair two only two games short of the .500 mark at 9-11 heading into the district 2C opener against Atlanta. 

“That really hurt,” acknowledged Robinson when thinking back to the 50-38 defeat to the Bulldogs who came into the game with a 5-17 mark. “We knew that one of their better players had been ineligible until after the first of the year but we felt we still had a good chance at winning.” 

Undaunted, Robinson and the team refused to let the deflating defeat untrack their new found road of success. Over the next six games Saline steamrolled their way through the rest of the district and even gained revenge of a couple of early season losses, beating Cedar Creek and Quitman by double digits. Saline now was sitting with a 16-13 overall record and a gaudy 5-1 district mark.

That set up “Round Two” against Atlanta. Early on it looked like Saline was going to blow the Bulldogs out of their own gym. Then adversity hit when sharp shooting Wesley Crawford, turned his ankle leading to a second half collapse that gave Atlanta their second victory over the Bobcats. 

“I didn’t let the guys know it but when Wesley went down, I was devastated,” said Robinson. “I was afraid we had lost him the rest of the way.”

Fortunately Crawford’s injury wasn’t as serious as it looked leading Robinson to be “thankful” once again.

“The next day I was really glad to see that he was moving around pretty good.”

Chances for a district title now looked bleak as all Atlanta had to do was win against the three schools they had already beaten. but as good fortune would have it Robinson found himself being “thankful” for a third time as defending Class C state runner-up Calvin beat Atlanta in the final game of district play setting up Saturday’s contest.

“I should have sent  a thank you note,” laughed Robinson.

No one will ever know if having a few extra seconds on the clock would have benefitted Atlanta but again Robinson was thankful for the way it all turned out. 

If one thing has been proven, it is easier to be thankful four times in season than it is to beat another team three.  

Saline now heads into the LHSAA Division V playoffs with a 19-14 overall record (they actually have won 20 games but the playoff game doesn’t count record wise) and with a team that is seemingly light years away from the one that began the season by losing nine of their first ten games.

Currently the Bobcats are shown to be at #17 in the power rankings, meaning that if Saline wins their first round contest a serious challenge would await in the second round in #1 ranked Zwolle, owners of a 30-2 record. Regardless of how the postseason plays out, in Robinson’s mind this season will go down as a successful one and this group of guys will be one that he will always remember fondly.

“I give all the credit to our guys,” said Robinson. “They could have just played out the string after our bad start but instead they worked hard to get better. They deserve to be district champions. They earned the right to be in this position.” 

There is another old adage that is tried and true in sports competition and that is the way you measure a coach isn’t by counting wins and losses but by comparing how his team was at the beginning of a season to how they finished. 

Saline has had a good season. They have a great coach!

TEAM 1 2 3 4 TOTAL
Saline (19-14) 11 13 9 11 44
Atlanta (13-20) 10 15 5 13 43
SHS scoring: Dailey 11, Crawford 11, Staggs 6, Dison 9, Ridley 2, Jones 2
AHS scoring: n/a

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