Spirits are high in the Athens High School gym. Players are messing around, shooting long shots during practice for fun. A team can do these kinds of things when its on a four-game winning streak.
Athens will look to make it five in a row Friday night on the road against Nelsonville-York. All four games in the win streak have come on the road.
The Bulldogs will have one more game on the road before returning home for four of their last five games. The Bulldogs, however, may not want to come home.
“Well, if we keep this pattern up, we can play them all away,” coach Mickey Cozart said.
The ability to play well on the road will be valuable come playoff time, as those games are played at neutral sites, but with raucous crowds. That road-winning ability was not there at the beginning of the season, but it has come over the course of the schedule.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do throughout the year, grow and get better,” Cozart said. “We’ve got some older guys out here that we should be able to rely on them to make the right decisions, and they’re making the right decisions.”
It is not just that the Bulldogs are winning games on the road. They are winning close games on the road: three-point wins over Vinton County and Jackson and a five-point win over Logan Elm.
The Bulldogs had leads for long stretches of those games, and when the other team made a run, Athens withstood the test. When Jackson took a late lead against them, Athens was able to retake that lead.
“You get confidence in your ability for when teams make a run to take that punch and battle through and keep your composure,” Cozart said.
The Bulldogs are able to take those punches when teams make late runs because of how well their defense has been playing. They have 50 steals over the win streak.
Defense has been the key. When asked the biggest stand out from the streak, Cozart had a one word answer, and it was probably what you could expect.