Newton in the middle of tight race

COVINGTON - The race for the boys basketball top seeds in Region 2-AAAAA is far from being decided with the top four teams having at least two games left to play.

Stephenson (16-6 overall, 10-2 in 2-AAAAA) leads the region. M.L. King (18-4, 9-2) sits in second, while Newton (16-5, 8-3) and Douglass (13-4, 8-3) are tied for third.

Although Redan (14-8, 6-5) cannot win the region, it can be a factor in the stretch run with games against two of the top four teams.

"Us, Stephenson and M.L. King are all playing each other. They're all going to be going to be extremely important games," Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. "We're just going to take them one at a time because they're all big."

Newton will start the first of their final three region games at 8:30 p.m. today at home against M.L. King, which is ranked No. 4 in the state by the Georgia Sportswriters Association. The Rams close out region play by traveling to Redan before hosting Stephenson.

After Newton lost 70-57 to M.L. King in the first meeting, Rasmussen is hoping that this time things end up different.

"We did not play well in their gym. Their pressure gave us some trouble and we didn't shoot a good percentage. They're obviously a good basketball team," he said. "The thing we have going for us is that we're a good basketball team, too, and we're going to be at home. It makes a difference when you're at home."

Before closing its season against Newton, Stephenson will have to play M.L. King, which closes out its region slate against Redan.

Douglass has the easiest schedule, closing out against the bottom three teams in the region - Union Grove, Luella and Lithonia. The bottom three teams have a combined record of 3-30 in the region.

While finishing in the top three for the region guarantees a softer opponent in the opening round of the region tournament, Rasmussen knows that it doesn't really mean anything.

"Three years ago, our No. 7 seed beat out No. 2, and the No. 7 seed went to the Elite Eight; it was Douglass," Rasmussen said. "It's going to be difficult to get out of the region. There are five teams (in contention) and only four will go. We've been in the four/five game before, so if that occurs, it's nothing new; that's what it was last year."

Even though Rasmussen would like to finish the season winning all three games, he knows everything that happens before the region tournament really doesn't mean much.

"What it all comes down to is that all these games are practice games," Rasmussen said. "You got one game the way it's set up. If you have a great night then great. If you don't, you just get in the stands and watch because it's over."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.