Warren Beaulah’s Carver Tigers entered the 2016-2017 season fresh off a year in which the team made the state tournament but was knocked out in the first round. With the goal to take the next step as a program, Beaulah saw his players come together and do just that.
Carver posted a 21-7 record in a season that included a Region 1-4A tournament title. The Tigers carried the momentum from that win over Americus-Sumter into the playoffs, winning their first two games before falling to St. Pius in the quarterfinals.
As a result of his team’s success in the regular season and postseason, Beaulah was selected as the All-Bi-City 4A-7A Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I feel like we had an outstanding season,” said Beaulah, who has been selected as Coach of the Year twice before. “We didn’t know exactly how far we would go this year. We did have an idea that if we came together, we had a chance to make a little run in the state playoffs.”
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The Tigers found their share of wins in the previous season, but those long-gone victories didn’t guarantee anything when the team reconvened. Beaulah said the key to the season was for some of the inexperienced players on the roster to step up and take on bigger roles than they’d ever had at the high school level.
Beaulah watched early on for a sign of how good his team could be. He got what he was looking for in the Tigers’ second game of the season.
Carver participated in the Columbus Classic tournament and was matched up with Lambert, a 7A school from Suwanee. Beaulah knew the Longhorns, which ultimately finished the season with 24 victories, would be a handful on the court. His squad would have to step up in order to have a shot at victory.
Carver ultimately fell to Lambert 88-81 in overtime. That performance was still enough to show Beaulah this team was capable of making some noise.
“We lost to them in overtime, but we had a chance to beat them. That’s when we said, ‘You know what, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good,’” Beaulah said.
The driving force for Carver throughout the season was an offense with several capable scoring threats.
Daniel Melvin, who was named the All-Bi-City 4A-7A Boys Basketball Player of the Year, consistently led the team in scoring, but several players took turns stepping up alongside him. One night, Rodney Battle would light up the scoreboard; the next it would be A.J. Watts, Devin Flowers or someone else.
“We stated it quite often through the course of the year,” Beaulah said. “We had four or five guys on any given night who could give you 15-plus points. I think that took a lot of the burden off Daniel. We told him we had people who could step up. It made him a little more relaxed.”
Carver’s options for points were highlighted once the postseason began.
“When we scout other teams, we hone in on one or two players,” Beaulah said. “With us having so much versatility on our offense, it really limited those teams. OK, y’all try to focus in on Daniel; we’ve got Watts or Flowers or Battle.”
As the team took down Burke County and Marist to open the playoffs, Beaulah said the key was the leadership within the team. Those aforementioned players, plus Alex Wilson and RJ Cummings, took it upon themselves to police each other, holding each other accountable for any mistakes. Just like Melvin didn’t have to score all the points, he wasn’t responsible for pointing out everyone else’s missteps.
“That made us better as a team,” Beaulah said.
Beaulah’s 13th season with Carver ended two games short of the ultimate goal. Carver found itself tied with St. Pius going into the final minute of their Elite Eight matchup. St. Pius got the upperhand and finished off the game with a free throw with a few seconds left, escaping the Tigers’ gym with a 64-60 victory.
Still, the run Beaulah’s team made was not something he took for granted.
“I’m just proud of the kids,” Beaulah said. “Any time you can go out and win 21 ballgames and make it to the Elite Eight with the competition we had, it shows the work the kids put in. I just appreciate what they did this year.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports