Last week we took a look at the 1973-74 basketball season for the Upson High School Yellow Jackets boys’ basketball team. We were the new boys on the block but we surprised everyone, including me, by winning our last seven regular season games and finishing with a 16-6 record.
Just a note about our last regular season game. Pike County came to town to play us, but one of the game officials failed to show up. We had to win the game to solidify our position in the sub-region tournament so the situation was a bit touchy. Pike’s coach was Tom Wilson, who was also the Pirates’ football coach. Tom told me that he would refuse to play if the other official did not show up. As the girls’ game ended it was obvious that the official was not going to appear.
Knowing nothing else to do, I got on the phone with Mr. Sam Burke. He was, of course, the head of the Georgia High School Association. After I told him about the situation and Coach Wilson’s refusal to play, he stated in his own unquestionable manner that we should commandeer a referee in the crowd and play. He then wanted to talk with Coach Wilson. When Tom hung up he said “We’ll play”!
The official we got from the stand was Bob Cauthen, who was a former Pike County player. Bob did a better job than the regular official and went on to a solid career as a high school referee. He also became a very good friend. We won the game 64-58.
Our sub-region tournament was played at Troup County High School, a neutral site. We knocked off Brookstone 78-50 in the first game and then ran into Pike County again. We built a solid lead and beat them 57-47 to advance to the finals. There we ran into a very good West Point team that had crushed us earlier in the year. We played better this time, but still got beat 65-53.
The second-place finish in the sub-region tournament allowed us to advance to the Region 5B tournament, which was held at Hogansville High School. Our opponent there was Palmetto High School. They were the champs from the region’s other sub-region and were a very talented team. We had our work cut out for us!
I remember clearly that we were having a very bad practice the day before the Palmetto game. After about 20 minutes I had seen all I wanted to see of their sloppiness and told the players to get dressed and go home. I told them that it was obvious that they didn’t want to work hard and I was sick of seeing them. And I was!
Well, the next night against Palmetto we played the best game of our season. I guess that shows that coaching and preparation can sometimes be over-rated. At least it seemed to be in this case.
Palmetto had a big, physical 6’5” player named Milton Huggins, who was one of the better players in the state and had already committed to attend Southern Illinois on a basketball scholarship. Word is that he didn’t ride to the game with the team but drove himself and his girlfriend to the game in his own car. I don’t know if that is true but it was a good nugget to use in my pre-game speech. They were taking us lightly and didn’t think we had a snowball’s chance of beating them. I drove that thought into our kids’ heads in our pre-game meeting. They heard me!
It worked well as we played a superb game and beat Palmetto 72-62. Huggins got his 25 points, but Dudley Mallory played a great game and had a season-high 31 points. Isaac King pitched in 14 points, hauled in an impressive 21 rebounds and neutralized Huggins. This win put us in the region finals and guaranteed us a trip to the Class B State Tournament.
The next night we had to play Hogansville for the region title in their gym. That was a tough assignment. Their coach was John Penland, a professor-like and methodical mentor who had built a great program at Hogansville. We had a 25-24 halftime lead and were feeling good about our chances. They hit us with a tough half-court zone press in the third quarter however and outscored us 19-8 to take a 43-33 lead entering the final period.
We were an experienced bunch and proudly fought back in the fourth quarter. We outscored them 18-13 in the final quarter but couldn’t overcome the third quarter disaster. We lost 56-51 to finish second in the region. We were headed to the state tourney however and still had some important games to play. We would go into the state with a 19-8 record and a will to keep advancing. I was very proud of this bunch and I knew that we were playing well enough to give some folks some trouble.
This group was not through winning. I’ll tell you about the state tournament next week. Don’t miss it!