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Finally healthy, Peachtree Ridge boys hoops on a big run

File Photo Peachtree Ridge's Edwin Efezohkae dribbles the ball up court during a game earlier this season.

File Photo Peachtree Ridge's Edwin Efezohkae dribbles the ball up court during a game earlier this season.

It was a fair question for nearly the entire basketball season --what could the Peachtree Ridge boys do with a full lineup?

Even head coach Keith Arrington didn't know the answer until the final week of the regular season.

For one reason or another, the Lions' roster of available players was in flux for months. Jordan Capps missed the largest chunk of time, a six-week span, with an ankle injury. Cole Rives missed more than two weeks. Benny Johnson was out a week.

When Arrington's team finally returned to full strength late in the season, the coach admitted he didn't know what to expect. He was optimistic, though, and with good reason.

Peachtree Ridge has put together one of the best late-season runs in the area of late, riding an eight-game winning streak into Saturday's Class AAAAA state tournament opener against Dacula. The surge was capped by winning the Region 7-AAAAA tourney championship last Saturday.

"We felt like we were peaking at the right time," Arrington said. "We had so many guys out during the season and that hurt us, but we finally had everybody back for the region tournament. I felt like we were going to play pretty good, but you never know."

In the preseason, the Lions wouldn't have been the favorite to win that region championship. They lost region player of the year Corey Heyward to graduation, along with two other all-region picks.

Their early-season play didn't inspire any region title hopes, either. Their 3-5 start made sure they didn't receive any votes in the state rankings, but Arrington, his fellow coaches and players never lost faith in the losses to tough teams.

Now, they stand at 19-9 and ready for a state-playoff run.

"We had a really special year last year (winning the 7-AAAAA regular-season title) and I guess people saw what we lost and thought we'd be down," Arrington said. "But our expectation was to compete for a region championship. It just took us some time to get there."

Defense and up-tempo pace have been the trademarks for the Lions, who won a battle with Collins Hill to open the region tourney. They followed that up with a convincing win over defending state champion Norcross and got up big on top-seeded North Gwinnett in the championship game before holding on for a victory.

Johnson, an ultra-quick point guard, had a big region tourney, including a 23-point effort in the title game. He scored 19 in the first half to help build a big lead.

Cole Romaguera, Rives and Davon Hill also have played well in the backcourt, while athletic Edwin Efezokhae has turned into a starter on the wing. Returning starter Brandon Jack and Capps have played big roles, as have Amir Warnock and Rawlings Okivie.

While the lineup doesn't have a go-to 20-point scorer, it does have balance. Seven different players have led the team in scoring in at least one game.

The Lions also enter state with a more friendly draw than last season. They lost to eventual state runner-up Milton in the second round a year ago, but are opposite powerhouses Milton and Wheeler in the brackets this season.

That said, Arrington isn't overlooking Dacula.

"(Dacula's) very physical," Arrington said. "I think they've got kids that are a little more physical than we are. They like to get the ball inside to (Xavier Okoro) and (Anthony Morse). They're going to be a tough out, that's for sure. They're a lot better than their record. They've lost a lot of close games."

The Peachtree Ridge-Dacula matchup is one of four boys games pitting 7-AAAAA vs. 8-AAAAA. Two others also are Saturday -- Norcross at Berkmar and Mill Creek at Shiloh -- while the North boys open the state tourney today vs. Central Gwinnett.

All four local girls games in the AAAAA playoffs are tonight, including the North girls at home against South Gwinnett in the first half of a doubleheader with the boys. The other AAAAA girls games tonight are Archer at Norcross, Mill Creek at Brookwood and Duluth at Parkview.