Earlier, Pelham’s boys basketball team could have crept up on opponents, cloaked in obscurity of being unranked.
This week, though, the Hornets broke into the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class AA rankings at No. 10 and are on everyone’s radar.
“We have a target on our back now, so it’s a different mindset for us out there,” coach Laron Smith said. “We have to come ready to play every night. We can’t take a night off, or even one play off.”
The way Pelham has been playing, it was increasingly hard not to notice.
After an inauspicious 0-3 season start, which included a 78-72 loss to Seminole County, the Hornets went through a Jekyll-and-Hyde spell in which they won two, lost two, then won one and lost one. Back from the holidays Jan. 3, their record stood at a not-so-noticeable 3-6.
Then, something happened. Pelham (11-6) now has won eight straight, including its last two outings — an important Region 1-AA one against Brooks County (56-28) and a non-region one against Cairo (45-32). The Hornets bolted to a 17-6 lead after a quarter against Brooks and never looked back. They led Cairo 23-11 by halftime en route to prevailing.
“It took us a minute to learn how to win,” Smith said.
Importantly, the Hornets are atop their region at 6-0 entering Friday’s region home game against Cook and tonight’s non-region matchup with Baker County. And things look good from here: Not only have the Hornets beaten Baker 10 of the last 12 times, but they already handled Cook 41-33 for the first time in three attempts on Jan. 5, a win that started this whole attention-getting run into the rankings.
If the Hornets keep this up, they could exceed their second- and first-round playoff appearances of the last two years, respectively. Some believe the team, which reached the quarterfinals in 1998 and ‘99, already is on a trajectory to challenge the school’s farthest-ever run, into the semifinals under then David Mosely in 1972. That year, the Hornets finished 25-4 and barely lost to Lithonia 64-62 in the Final Four at the Macon Coliseum.
Smith said key is not getting over excited. Though only a few short weeks away, the playoffs aren’t anything Smith and his team are focused on.
“We’re not looking that far ahead yet,” he said. “We haven’t worried too much about wins and losses. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”