Toombs County boys building a consistent winner

No. 5 Bulldogs eyeing 4th straight playoff appearance, 1st region title in 20 years
ajc.com

On Friday, the Toombs County Bulldogs defeated Region 3 opponent Tattnall County 63-34, a lopsided win that’s typical for them in league play this season. Their average margin of victory against 3-2A opponents is 28.2.

At 20-2, 9-0 in 3-2A, the No. 5 Bulldogs, who will host the Region 3 tournament, are in line for their first region title since the 2003-04 season. They’re also in line for a fourth consecutive playoff appearance, a feat not accomplished by the Bulldogs since they qualified four years in a row from 2001-05.

Building a consistent winner in Lyons has been a challenge, but third-year coach Jared Goodwin is 2-for-2 in getting the Bulldogs to the state playoffs, and that streak about to extend to three. The program is trending toward perennial playoff contention under Goodwin, and the players are setting the standard.

“That’s something we’ve discussed the last couple of years since I got here,” Goodwin said. “We recognize the talent we have in this program, and we want to get back to consistently winning, year after year. It’s been a long time since this program has had sustained success. We’re working toward that, and we’ve made a lot of progress from Year 1 to Year 2. And this year, we’ve taken a couple more steps forward so far. It’s a slow process, but we talk about it. Programs here have had sustained success, but basketball hasn’t been one of them in awhile, even though there have some good teams here.”

The Bulldogs are led by three seniors: Dominic Eason (19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks), Jesus Quintero (13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.5 steals) and Demetrius Cutler (8.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, two assists). They are complimented by key role players, senior Marion James, junior James Polke and sophomores Gavin Fletcher and Parker Stanley.

They have five players 6-foot-4 or taller, including Eason (6-foot-5), and Cutler (6-foot-4).

“We have athletes, so we want to get up and down the court,” Goodwin said. “We want to create a fast tempo to get transition opportunities, but we can play within a half-court structure. We’re blessed with size, and posting up is important, because you can create inside-out ball movement. Our shooters can create off the dribble to get their own scoring opportunities.”

The Bulldogs’ only losses came in holiday events, against 6A’s Veterans in November, and to Florida’s Paxon in December. Paxon is ranked No. 6 in Florida’s 4A in the MaxPreps computer rankings. They’ve only played one in-state ranked opponent this season, 3A’s No. 5 Dougherty in early December, and won 53-45. All Bulldogs wins except for two have come by double digits.

When asked if the Bulldogs’ would be battle-tested enough for the playoffs, Goodwin said he believes so.

“We’ve played some good teams,” he said. “We try to schedule some games to prepare us for more playoff-type competition outside of our region, and that’s done some good for us this year. In the playoffs the last several years, we’ve always end up having to go through the Augusta area (the Bulldogs have been eliminated by a Region 4 team each of the last three seasons), so we’ve tried to prepare ourselves these last couple of years with our schedule. We’ve found some success in those games.”

The Bulldogs have regular season games remaining against Windsor Forest, Pierce County and Tatnall County, all region opponents they beat by double digits earlier this year. They’ll enjoy home court advantage in the region tournament, then it’s on to the state tournament, where they last won in 2021, the year before Goodwin’s arrival.

The Bulldogs reached the second round in 2021, one of two times the program has advanced in the playoffs, the other coming in 1998 when they reached the 2A quarterfinals.

“Our expectations are to win out in the regular season, then win the region tournament,” Goodwin said. “We need two wins (in the 3-2A tournament) to be the No. 1 seed, with an opportunity to host (at least the first two rounds). We want to go out there, achieve those goals and see where it goes. I like our group of guys. They’ve worked hard this year, and they are deserving of an opportunity to display how good of a team they are. If we stay focused, we’ll have an opportunity to make noise in the playoffs...Our goal is to get to Macon, and there are a lot of steps to take and obstacles to get there, but these guys are ready.”

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