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High School Basketball Notes: Panthers break long drought with region win

To say Tuesday's 62-50 upset of Region 8-AAAAAA leader Archer was a long time coming for Parkview's boys may be the understatement of the year.

In addition to breaking a seven-game losing streak and posting just their third win in 21 games so far this season, the Panthers (3-18, 1-11) ended an even bigger drought in region play.

That winless string covered the last 14 regular-season region games -- not including region tournament play -- dating back to a 51-47 win over Dacula a year ago today.

In fact, the win was just the sixth for the Panthers in their last 32 region games dating back to the 2010-11 season.

And it's been an even longer time coming for head coach Steve Richardson, who came back this season to coach the step after stepping away following the 1999-2000 season.

But Richardson is happier for his players, who finally have tangible results after showing signs of improvement behind contributors like juniors T.J. Thomas, who is averaging 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and finished with 29 points and 17 boards in Tuesday's win at Archer, and Malik Abraham (11.3 ppg).

"It's a big win for us because we struggled the first half of the season," Richardson said. "But they've believed in what we're doing. Every player has worked hard to get better, and they believe in our system and our philosophy. We kept telling them, 'Keep plugging away, and things are going to get better.' It's a testament to their work ethic that they kept working. There could've been several times during the season when they could've (quit), but they're battlers. I'm so proud of them because they battled. I told them they grew up a lot (Tuesday) night."

First close call of the season

While the win for Parkview's boys was a milestone, the Panther girls' 53-49 win at Archer on Tuesday was also a milestone of sorts.

The four-point margin was, by far, the closest of the season in Parkview's run of 22 straight wins so far this year, with the next closest being a 22-point win over Mill Creek on Dec. 1.

In fact, the Panthers have won their games by an average of 37.2 points per game, with only eight of those wins coming by 25 points or less.

While coach Tony Watkins was less than thrilled with the fact the Panthers (22-0, 13-0 in Region 8-AAAAAA) nearly let leads of 20 and 16 points slip away to the tenacious Tigers, he did add that being challenged might help his team in the long run as the region and state tournaments approach.

"Hopefully, we'll grow from it and we'll learn from it," Watkins said. "We were able to survive and still get in the left-hand column. We're glad we had this. We would've liked to have had a couple more close games. We can only play who's on our schedule."

Winning Wildcats

Tuesday's 57-31 win at Mountain View did more than just break a four-game losing streak for Duluth's boys. It also left them just one win away from a major milestone.

With three more regular season games remaining, plus at least one in the Region 7-AAAAAA tournament, the Wildcats (13-10, 4-9) need just one more win to virtually assure themselves of the program's first overall winning season since 1998.

In theory, Duluth could still finish below .500 even if it wins one more regular season game and just one game in the region tournament, and then loses in the first round of the state tournament.

However, coach Eddie Hood says his players are just relishing the opportunity to do something that hasn't been done since longtime coach Joe Marelle, now an assistant coach at GAC, was coaching the Wildcats.

And he believes that can only have a positive effect on the program as it moves forward.

"It's very possible we're going to have a winning season," Hood said. "That's only going to carry that momentum into those kids coming up to want to be a part of Duluth and resurrect that history that Joe Marelle had over here."

Patriots welcome Wheeler challenge

With two more tough Region 8-AAAAAA games to close out the regular season, as well as the upcoming region tournament, Berkmar's boys will gear up with another stiff challenge when perennial Cobb County powerhouse Wheeler visits for a 7 p.m. tipoff Saturday.

The game was not originally on either team's schedule, but the Patriots played one fewer game than they expected to during the Arby's Invitational in Bristol, Tenn., over the holidays, while the Wildcats also had an extra slot on their schedule.

"Any time you can play a good (non-region) team like this towards the end of the (regular season) it's a good thing," Berkmar coach Gregory Phillips said. "It's similar to a state tournament (atmosphere), so our guys get a chance to see what that's like."

Both teams have plenty of winning tradition in the state's largest classification over the years, with Berkmar winning back-to-back state titles in 2000 and 2001, while Wheeler has won five state titles since 1994, the last in 2009.

The Patriots are 12-10 heading into Saturday night's game, while Wheeler is 14-6 heading into a game against Milton on Friday.