ROBERTA -- The sound was unmistakable.
Any time the big men on the Crawford County boys basketball team kicked the ball out to an open man on the wing, the crowd was prepared to render its approval.
An open 3-pointer -- more often than not nailed -- was greeted by one loud “Woosh!” by Crawford County’s fans.
“That was amazing,” center Marcal Knolton said. “Seeing the crowd and the people coming together, it was a good feeling having that crowd cheering us on.”
Once postseason play rolled around, Crawford County’s fans gave the Eagles a home-court advantage matched by few teams in Middle Georgia, maybe even the state. They packed the historic gym -- a standalone building not on the high school campus that has been home to state champions in previous decades -- and willed the Eagles past defending GHSA Class AA champion Greater Atlanta Christian in the second round en route to an appearance in the Class AA title game.
Someone involved in a lot of those rally driving shots, both in the paint and out on the perimeter, was William Jarrell, Crawford County’s 6-foot-4 junior swing man. He crashed the boards when he needed to, and he also didn’t hesitate to take a shot out on the perimeter.
Jarrell was equally effective in both roles. He averaged 25.8 points and 13.9 rebounds, the team leader in both categories. His leading role in Crawford County’s run to the championship game earned him The Telegraph All-Middle Georgia Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
“This was my first time playing with him on a team, and he was amazing,” said Knolton, a sophomore whose 17 points and 12.1 rebounds per game allowed Jarrell to work away from the basket. “He just doesn’t like to lose. He’s a great player, athletic, coachable. I love working with him.”
This was the season in which Crawford County, a team that had no seniors and made an early playoff exit the season before, broke through and became one of the state’s top basketball teams.
“We worked hard the whole season, and we made it (to the title game),” Jarrell said. “We didn’t finish it, but we made it.”
Crawford County swept through Region 4-AA play, winning all of its games and breezing through the region tournament. But the big question was whether the Eagles could go far in Class AA playoff competition, especially with GAC lined up as a second-round opponent.
Playing as the underdog, Crawford County trailed for most of the first half. But the Eagles rallied to force overtime, holding GAC without a point for the final 1:31 of regulation.
Crawford County owned the final two-plus minutes of overtime, outscoring GAC 11-2, with Jarrell scoring two key baskets as the Eagles pulled out an 88-81 win. He finished with 28 points.
“Once we found out that we were going to play GAC, we turned it up a notch,” Jarrell said. “We worked hard in practice to see everything, the big picture. We just had to come together to beat them.
“That was a big step. We knew we could win it after we beat GAC. Everyone was talking about how we were going to lose, how good they were, who they had on their team. We never were worried. We just knew we had to play.”
After that, Jarrell had 21 points in an 80-65 quarterfinal win over Thomasville, then he had another 28-point effort in a 71-58 semifinal win over Swainsboro.
“He’s a talented player, and we try to use him where we can use all of his talent, because you have to,” Crawford County head coach Clyde Zachery said. “He’s not a selfish player ... he’s a team player, a leader.”
If there was any blemish to Jarrell’s season, it was the championship game loss to Seminole County at the Macon Coliseum. Despite scoring 31 points on 9-of-19 shooting -- he also went 12-of-15 from the line -- Jarrell and the Eagles fell 76-71. Jarrell and Knolton played the entire game.
Jarrell is using the loss to fuel his offseason work, which he hopes will power another playoff run.
“If we play them again, I think we’ll beat them,” Jarrell said. “It’s only one game, the championship game.”
Of course, there’s also the skills that college coaches want him to add.
Jarrell, who said he has been talking with East Carolina, South Alabama, Mercer and Chattanooga, said he wants to work on ball-handling skills, especially with his left hand, as well as mid-range shooting during the offseason. His AAU team is the Crawford County SuperSonics.
“They’re really recruiting me as a shooting guard, a wing man,” Jarrell said of the college programs.
Still, there’s that one big incentive waiting for Jarrell and his teammates next season, the opportunity to hang a state championship banner. With the entire roster returning, expectations will be high.
“We know what we have to do to get there in order to win the championship,” Jarrell said. “We have to keep working.”