One Cannon County basketball team will be under the gun while the other will face a less stressful situation when the District 8-AA Tournament begins Thursday in Sparta.
Cannon County's Lionettes (23-6) are the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will face No. 6 DeKalb County in an elimination game Thursday at 6 p.m. at White County High School, while the Lions (20-10) have earned a first-round bye and will not play until their semifinal game against the winner of the No. 3 vs. No. 6 survivor. The Lions have clinched a Region 4-AA berth based on their No. 2 seed in the district tournament.
"Positioning is everything and with this being such a wide-open field, you are pleased to have that first-round bye and know you are in the Region 4 Tournament going into the postseason," Lions third-year Head Coach Matt Rigsby said. "The last two years we have had to play in an elimination game and that's tough. We have been on the winning side and the losing side so it is good not to face that elimination game in the district tournament."
Logic may suggest the Lionettes earned a virtual bye against rival DeKalb County, which they have defeated an astonishing 28 consecutive times dating back to 1999; however, Cannon County Head Coach Michael Dodgen warns against overlooking the Lady Tigers.
"DeKalb County has nothing to lose and there is no pressure for them," Dodgen said. "We ended DeKalb County's season on that same floor last year. They are going to play with a lot of pride. We have won a lot in a row (against DeKalb County) but anytime you play your rival you throw everything out because you have to show up and play. They always seem to play us tougher anyone in the district so we have to match that intensity."
A loss would end the Lionettes' season but a win assures them of three more games, including a Region 4-AA berth. If the Lionettes take care of business against DeKalb County they will face No. 2 seed Upperman in one semifinal game Saturday at 4 p.m. The girls championship is Monday at 7:30 p.m., and the girls consolation game is Monday at 6 p.m.
The District 8-AA girls tournament is similar to a mini state tournament with three of the six league teams ranked in the Class AA Top 10 poll - No. 6 Livingston Academy, No. 7 Upperman and No. 10 Cannon County.
"A lot of times our district tournament turns into our region tournament," Dodgen said. "You are going to see two or three of these teams two more times, possibly three, and that's the hard part. For preparation it is not that hard because you are seeing the same teams over and over, but you have to stay focused and take care of business. Thursday is an elimination game and somebody is going home. We have to take care of business to guarantee ourselves at least three more games and keep going."
Cannon County's boys will begin play Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 3 Upperman and No. 6 York. Although the Lions already know they have punched their ticket to the Region 4-AA Tournament for a second straight year, they also want to put themselves in the best position possible as the postseason unfolds.
Should the Lions reach the District 8-AA championship game they would be guaranteed to host a first-round Region 4-AA game.
"The biggest key to the bye is that we don't play until Saturday and we can give our kids a couple days off to get rested and get healthy," Rigsby said. "This will allow us a couple more days to get Brian Cripps back and allow T.J. Mitchell to rest his shoulder so those things are big. This is a wide-open field, but I believe our players have the talent to make a run."
Going into last Saturday's game at York the Lions were 3-0 against their potential semifinal foes, but Rigsby said he is focused more on what his team in the present than what has transpired in the past.
"Night-in, night-out we have competed," Rigsby said. "We have been in every game we have played this season and the guys always give themselves a chance to win. That's really all you can ask from your guys. I just hope our kids understand that nothing changes. It is the same things we have been preaching and teaching as far as the little things going into the tournament. You have to play solid defense, not allow outside factors change your approach and you just have to be solid and fulfill your role."
The District 8-AA boys championship game is scheduled for Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m., following the boys consolation game the same day at 5 p.m.
District 8-AA Girls Tournament
At Sparta High School
Feb. 17 Cannon Co. vs. DeKalb Co. 6 p.m.
Feb. 18 Smith Co. vs. York 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 Cannon Co./DeKalb Co. winner vs. Upperman 4 p.m.
Feb. 19 Smith Co./York winner vs. Livingston Academy 7 p.m.
Feb. 21 Consolation Game 6 p.m.
Feb. 21 Championship game 7:30 p.m.
District 8-AA Boys Tournament
At Sparta High School
Feb. 17 Upperman vs. York 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 18 Smith Co. vs. DeKalb Co. 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 19 Upperman/York winner vs. Cannon Co. 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 19 Smith Co./DeKalb Co. winner vs. Livingston Academy 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 Consolation Game 6 p.m.
Feb. 22 Championship Game 7:30 p.m.