COVINGTON - The road to the Class AAAAA state playoffs goes through Redan as the Newton boys drew the Raiders in the opening round of the Region 2-AAAAA Tournament today at 5:30 p.m. at Stephenson High School.
Newton (17-8, 8-6) dropped from third in the region in the final week of the regular season to fifth after the dust settled. Redan (17-8, 9-5) moved from fifth to fourth in the region standings over the same span.
The Rams split with Redan in regular season, winning at home 64-58 before losing on the road 45-40 on Feb. 5.
Despite losing four of their last five games, including three region games, to close the season, Newton boys coach Rick Rasmussen likes his matchup.
"The good thing about facing Redan is our kids believe we can beat them because we already have. Other than that, sometimes it is harder to beat a team a third time if you have already beaten them twice, so maybe it is better we only split with them," he said. "Redan won there when they played Stephenson, so they feel good about that gym."
When Newton played Redan the last time, the Rams were inundated with injuries. While some of Rasmussen's players are still not at 100 percent, they are well enough to play this evening.
"The timing of the injuries and sickness has been awful, but we can't do anything about it," Rasmussen said. "Now we want to move on and hope to get back to the team we were before all the injuries and sickness."
If the Rams get past Redan, they will face the winner of Douglass and Union Grove. During regular season meetings, Newton swept Union Grove and split with Douglass.
Although the Rams did not finish the season on a high note, Rasmussen and the team know what happened before does not matter. All that counts is what happens from here forward.
"The way we keep them looking forward is to remind them that the regular season is over. We have a good record at this point and we just finished the toughest part of our schedule," Rasmussen said. "To have 17 wins at this point, with our lack of height, is a testament to the heart of our kids. They have had great attitudes all year and I am very proud of what they've accomplished. I still think this team is capable of doing something if we can get healthy and qualify for state."
In the girls bracket, the Newton girls (7-18 play after the boys game at 7 p.m. against Stephenson, which is ranked No. 4 in Class AAAAA.
In regular season meetings, the Lady Jaguars beat Newton 63-18 and 65-23.
The Newton girls finished eighth as the No. 8 seed in the region after losing the tie breaker on a coin flip to Lithonia, as both teams finished region play at 2-12.
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.