Class 5A blog: Eastside boys blend together to create a contender

The Eastside basketball team got four transfers this season, leaving coach Dorrian Randolph unsure whether the team’s five returners would be able to bond with the newcomers. Turns out the transition was almost seamless, leaving the Eagles with a chance to win the Region 8 championship.

“There’s always a chemistry issue,” Randolph said. “You worry about whether the new kids are going to gel with the kids you have returning. But it kind of all went smoothly.”

Eastside lost its second game to No. 9-ranked Tucker, then won 12 sraight before its next loss. Along the way the Eagles went to Pensacola, Fla., and beat a team from Tennessee and a couple from Ohio. That answered any questions about whether the team could come together.

“I think that was a team-bonding experience to get to play some teams that do things a little differently,” Randolph said. “I think that all helped propel us and get us where we are now.”

The starting lineup features three seniors and two juniors. The seniors include: 6-foot-3 Kassen Saunders, who is shooting 45 percent on 3 pointers and could play small-college basketball; 5-11 point guard Brentarious Reed, the team captain and floor leader; and Saabir Berrian, a muscular 6-foot-2 insde presence.

“We have senior leadership this year,” Randolph said. “I think that’s what we were missing last year. We never became a team.”

The junor starters are Trebor Edwards, an athletic 6-footer who can do a lot of things, and Larry Rivers, a 6-2 wing who thrives on playing defense and going after rebounds.

The Eagles have a balanced scoring attack. Saunders leads the team with 12.5 points per game, with others chipping in 5-8 points per game.

“I don’t really have ‘the guy.’ I have a bunch of guys,” Randolph said. “That’s what they’ve had to buy into. If one guy is hot, they keep feeding him. That’s the great thing about this team, they actually don’t care who scores, who’s getting their name in the newspaper. All they care about is getting the win.”

The Eagles have their eyes on winning the Region and earning a guaranteed spot in the state playoffs. Eastside (16-2, 6-1) will know more after Friday’s game against Heritage (13-6, 5-2), tied for second in the league, in Conyers. Eastside beat Heritage 63-61 on a last-second 3-pointer by Sanders in their first meeting on Dec. 13.

A win would give Eastside an advantage, although nothing is sure in Region 8, one of the most competitive leagues in the state. The Eagles still have games against Winder-Barrow (12-8, 5-2) and Flowery Branch (14-4), which handed them their only loss.

“We control our own destiny,” Randolph said. “It’s hard to be No. 1 because everybody’s gunning for you. You’ve got to practice extra hard and take care of every detail.”

Top games this weekend

Boys

In Region 2, No. 1 Eagle’s Landing (19-0, 7-0) will host Warner Robins (11-4, 4-3) on Friday. Eagle’s Landing won the first meeting 68-51 on Dec. 8.

In Region 4, No. 10 Lithonia (14-4, 4-1) travels to play Decatur (11-6, 3-2) on Friday. Lithonia came away with a 53-51 win over the Bulldogs on Jan. 6. Both teams are chasing No. 9 Tucker (13-5, 5-0).

In Region 5, No. 7 Chapel Hill (11-5, 7-1) travels to play No. 8 Tri-Cities (9-8, 6-2) in an important contest on Friday. A win would guarantee Chapel Hill retains a share of first place. A Tri-Cities victory would move the defending state champions into a tie for second in the league. Chapel Hill beat Tri-Cities 78-63 in their first meeting on Dec. 6.

Girls

In Region 1, No. 4 Bradwell Institute (15-2, 5-0) takes a six-game winning streak to Augusta to face Greenbrier (14-6, 3-2) on Saturday for the first time. Taniyah Bowman (16.5 points) and Bailey Gilmore (9.1 points, 9.2 rebounds) lead Bradwell. Caitlin Staley leads Greenbrier with 13.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and three blocks per game. The teams play again on Jan. 27.

In Region 5, No. 5 Maynard Jackson has a big weekend. The Jaguars (13-1, 8-0) will host Villa Rica (10-4, 53) on Friday and travel to Mays on Saturday. Coach Michelle Powell’s team has already beaten both and could build a very comfortable lead with a sweep.