High School Sports

Northside embracing new challenge in semifinals

Northside High knows drama.

With a last-second win over Jenkins on Wednesday, the Patriots showed that they were more than prepared to perform in the big moment.

That stage gets a little bigger on Saturday, however, when they play top-ranked Miller Grove at Kennesaw State in the Class AAAAA semifinals. Miller Grove has won four consecutive state championships and Northside is making its first appearance in the state semifinals.

Coming off that win against Jenkins, the players admitted that it was a process to bring themselves back down to earth to prepare for the next challenge.

“Yeah, it can be difficult,” senior R.J. Sessions said on Thursday. “It was a big game, and we won in such a big way. But we’re trying to stay focused and not think about the past.”

“It’s difficult, because we made history,” agreed Jeremy Floyd, the player who knocked down the long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Patriots the victory. “We can still stay focused, though.”

Perhaps playing a team like Miller Grove is a blessing and a curse.

Sure, the players and coach Kenneth Lawrence know the difficult challenge ahead of them. Miller Grove has achieved more than any other team in the state over the past four years. But knowing the challenge has helped keep the players from getting too caught up in what they accomplished on Wednesday.

“We’re excited, but we’ve got to stay humble,” Sessions said. “We can’t worry about where we’re at or who we’re playing. We just have to think about how to win the game.”

Therein lies the rub.

How do you beat a team that doesn’t lose in the postseason?

It starts with the mental approach, Lawrence said.

The Northside players, while elated with the manner in which they won on Wednesday, are not satisfied. The Patriots said at the beginning of the year that they wanted a state championship. They are two games but a world away from achieving that goal.

“I like the fact that they’re not satisfied,” Lawrence said. “We talked about that (on Thursday). We have two more. We’re looking for that last goal.”

To do that, Northside will have to overcome Miller Grove’s superior height. The Patriots can’t match it in size, but they can in athleticism and shooting.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team,” Lawrence said. “We’ve got four guards that are difficult to defend.”

Still, Miller Grove likes to get out and run even with its size. The players know that when they don’t have a clear advantage in any one facet of the game, it means they will have to take advantage of every opportunity they are given.

“We’re capable,” Floyd said. “We just have to take advantage of everything they give us.”

And one thing they want to make clear: They aren’t backing down.

“They’re going to do what they do best, and we’ll do what we do best,” Sessions said. “What they’ve done in the past doesn’t really matter.”

“We’re just going to play like we know how to play,” Floyd said. “We’re going to give all we got.

“We’re capable of winning this game. Win or lose, though, in our mind, we’ve still accomplished something great.”

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.