Class 5A blog: Union Grove girls emerge stronger after tough start

In an effort to toughen up his team, Union Grove coach Dock Gammage scheduled a difficult non-region schedule. The idea was to prepare his girls for a brutal region schedule.

The strategy worked; after starting the season 1-5 – losses to two-time defending state champion and Class 6A No. 3 Woodward Academy, Class 6A No. 2 Rockdale County, Class 6A No. 4 Lovejoy and Class 7A No. 6 Campbell and Class 7A No. 5 Peachtree Ridge -- the Wolverines are now 11-6 and take a nine-game winning streak into tonight’s Region 2 showdown with Jones County.

“I knew that could be good or bad, but I think it paid off because now that we’re in the region schedule, we’re starting to hit our stride,” Gammage said.

Gammage said the rough stretch helped the team bond and become closer.

“It really helped them trust in each other,” he said. “The flipside is defensively, they know they’re going to have help so they can be more aggressive on defense. They know that if they get beat backdoor, that somebody’s back there to help them.”

The Wolverines are a young team, with only two seniors on the roster. The two top scorers are juniors Jordan Brooks (11.9 points) and Nedea Smith (11 points, 6.6 rebounds). Brooks is a fiery player and Smith can be dominant inside.

The other starters are defensive stopper Julia Baker (6.8 points), 3-point shooter Skylar Patten (4.5 points) and Alexis Parson (5.4 point), perhaps the most unselfish part of the winning equation. Reserve Mariah Miller averages 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds.

Union Grove, the No. 3-ranked team in the state, will host No. 7 Jones County on Friday. The Wolverines have a rematch with No. 2 Warner Robins on Jan. 17. Union Grove beat Jones County 36-31 and lost to Warner Robins 61-48 in the first meetings. Union Grove has another non-region game on Saturday against No. 10 Northside Columbus.

In other big games this weekend

Girls

In a non-region contest on Saturday, No. 1 Kell plays at Class 6A No. 3 Woodward Academy, the two-time defending state champions. Kell (12-4) lost last Saturday to Palm Bay of Melbourne, Fla.

Boys

In Region 7A, Dalton (11-1, 1-0) travels to Hiram (12-2, 1-0) in a game that will decide the early region leader. Hiram, led by guard Jay Boyd, is coming off a 75-23 win over Woodland. Dalton remains the Cinderella story of the year after winning only one game last season. The Catamounts, led by 10 points and nine rebounds from Drew Snyder, are coming off a 51-49 win over Cartersville.

In Region 8A, Heritage (12-5, 4-1) visits Flowery Branch (13-3, 3-2) in the wild playoff race. Heritage is coming of a 58-45 win over Jefferson. Flowery Branch beat Loganville 85-72 on Tuesday.

In Region 3A, reigning state champion and No. 8 Tri-Cities (7-7, 4-2) goes to Maynard Jackson (8-5, 4-2), with the winner remaining in a tie for second place in the league.