If Manchester boys can keep their winning pace, look out.
That seems clear for the Blue Devils, who sit atop the Class AA rankings at 13-2, entering road games Friday against struggling Chattahoochee County and Heard County, who have only three wins combined.
Increasingly, as the postseason nears, the Devils appear destined for an 11th consecutive state playoff appearance, and potentially, a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Laney in the championship game.
Ranked No. 1, Manchester no doubt is entitled to have a swagger. But there’s also a degree of uncertainty for the perennial playoff contender since winning its lone state championship in 2007, then coming no closer than the second round twice and falling short in last year’s final.
Motivational might be still-raw memory of last year’s 67-53 championship loss to Laney, after the Devils (23-3) appeared to be world beaters by stunning two-time defending state champion Greater Atlanta Christian in the quarterfinals. Offensive firepower came too late against Laney, though, as the Devils were overwhelmed by pressure defense and athleticism.
Zay Echols scored a game-high 29 points for Manchester, including five 3-pointers and 17 points in the final quarter, but no other Manchester player scored more than four. The Devils trailed the Wildcats by 10 at halftime and 20 in the fourth quarter, and never drew closer than within 56-48 with about three minutes left.
Still, Manchester coach Curtis Echols said, “We never quit. I challenged them right there to keep fighting. I’m proud of them for coming back and fighting like they did.”
“We came in knowing that Laney was a physical team, and they were,” Echols added. “They really took it to us.”
This season, the Devils look like they’re on a mission, having lost only to AAAA Westover and Albany. Manchester has dominated opponents by 10 points on average. It began the season by winning five straight and enters Friday’s Region 5-AA matchup against the Panthers having ripped off seven in a row.
Heads are turning to look at Manchester, and the Devils are turning to look to the light of center stage.
If you make it to Manchester, you’ll see some high-scoring hoops. The Devils have scored more than 80 in three of the last four games and even topped 90 in a 94-81 win over Spencer two outings ago.