DECATUR -- Central A&M has been on an incredible roll this season, winning 31 of 32 games and defeating its five postseason opponents by an average of 20.4 points.
After surviving two scares in last year's postseason to make state, the Raiders are a smarter, tougher, more mature team this year as they make their return.
A&M has great shooters, players who can drive, players who can score in the post and players who can thread passes. The Raiders have a swarming, physical defense that few opponents can hold off an entire game.
But if there's a weakness, it's post defense. Centers Abigail Hilton and Morgan Damery are both 5-foot-10, but South Fulton 6-footer Sommer Burgard was a mismatch.
Hilton and Damery did what they were asked -- they each used four fouls in trying to match the physical Burgard. But she finished with 15 points to lead South Fulton.
It won't get any easier at state. Potential state title opponent Hardin Calhoun is led by three players taller than 6-0.
"Burgard was physical and she would lean on us -- we didn't pull the chair out on her," A&M coach Tom Dooley said. "She was also good at spinning, and we didn't have help-side like we needed.
"We tried to zone a little bit, but then they hit a three. We have some adjusting to do. We'll look at film. I know we can play better interior defense and that's what we need to do."
Central A&M senior Taylor Jordan said sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
"Guarding interior players has been one of our struggles all year," Jordan said. "We just don't have the size. But we have the legs and we get it up and down the floor. That's what we have to use."
It worked well against South Fulton. There were times Burgard looked gassed.
"They forced us into a run-and-gun at times," South Fulton coach Carl Beebe said. "That wasn't our game plan."
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As the season led up to Monday's game between Central A&M and South Fulton, the teams' coaches got to know each other through a working relationship as insurance adjusters.
But when they got together, South Fulton coach Carl Beebe said there wasn't much insurance talk.
"We talk mostly basketball," Beebe said. "Especially during basketball season and the postseason, you try to get your two or three minutes of work in and it's back to basketball."
Beebe said both coaches saw this game coming as soon as regional assignments came out. Both coaches had scouted the other's team, but neither tried to work the other for inside information. Beebe said most of their conversations were about their programs' futures.
"We're coaches -- we're always thinking about the next year, who's coming back, etc.," Beebe said. "He didn't give me a lot of details about his team, but he'd seen us and we'd seen them. I don't think we surprised each other.
"He has a nice ball club, there's no doubt about that."
Magical first year
Flora coach Todd Countryman will remember this year for a long time, and it was only his first as the Wolves' head coach.
The Wolves won their first regional title since the 2004-2005 season and their first-ever sectional title with a win against Teutopolis, a team they beat twice this season.
"This was a magical ride and I'm glad to have been a part of it," Countryman said. "We're going to look back on it and think of all the positive memories. It was something else."
Countryman praised the team's openness in welcoming him as their coach.
"It seemed like they responded well to the change and did a good job understanding where I'm coming from as far as my philosophy," Countryman said. "I can't really put into words what it was like."