As the Bulldogs dribbled out the final seconds of the game, a few players held their hands to their head and looked up toward the ceiling. Relief fell over them as time expired on the clock. The Bulldogs had just barely squeaked their way through their first playoff game. Athens’ 49-41 defeat of Circleville earned it a win in the Division II Southeast 1 sectional semifinals.
Though the Bulldogs stayed in front of the Tigers throughout the game, they did not win without drama. Athens took a 4-3 lead in the first quarter and had to fight hard to keep it. Circleville consistently pushed back against Athens and stayed within reach of Athens for all four quarters.
Both teams had to pull teeth to get points on the board. The first quarter ended with Athens leading 10-5. Neither team was able to keep possession nor finish on offense. Although Athens heated up with an 8-0 run in the beginning of the second quarter, Circleville responded with eight points of its own, and the teams continued to trade blows.
The close score was caused by the Bulldog’s stagnancy in certain areas. Athens moved the ball well on offense and carried out its plays deliberately. However, it struggled with getting offensive rebounds and putting the ball through the net on second efforts. It’s an unusual struggle, as Athens’ offense often excels at both.
Additionally, two of Athens’ top scorers of the season, center Derrick Welsh and shooting guard Landon Wheatley, ended the first half with just nine points combined. However, as the game continued, Welsh got more comfortable. He ended the game with 13 points, tied for the team-high alongside power forward Levi Neal. The two accounted for over half of Athens' total score.
Though some aspects of Athens’ play improved over the course of the game, both it and Circleville struggled with sloppy turnovers up until the final minute. However, it was Athens' fifth game in seven days, so fatigue was to be expected.
“We didn’t play a very good basketball game,” Athens coach Mickey Cozart said. “We got some stops, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna have to play a heck of a lot better to compete with Waverly.”
Regardless of any difficulty in the sectional semifinals, the Bulldogs will move on in their postseason endeavors Friday at 7 p.m. They will play against No. 1 seeded Waverly in the sectional finals.
“Obviously, we’re happy to get the win,” Cozart said. “We’re happy to be moving on, so we’re going to put a game plan in and see what happens on Friday.”