ROBERTA -- Thirty-five years ago, Clyde Zachery took over the Crawford County boys basketball program from a legend.
Zachery inherited the program from J.B. Hawkins, who led the Eagles to the 1969 GHSA Class C championship and now has Mercer’s arena named after him and his family. Zachery started out fast, winning Class AA titles in 1981 and 1982 with the help of Kenny Walker, who went on to star at Kentucky and play for New York and Washington in the NBA.
A third state title eluded Zachery this season. But he might be on the verge of picking one up. Zachery led a young group of players -- a group that had no seniors -- to a 27-4 record and an appearance in the Class AA title game.
The Telegraph All-Middle Georgia Boys Basketball Coach of the Year will have a team next season that will be expected to contend for a state title.
“You can’t ask for a group that loves and cares for each other more,” Zachery said. “They have each other’s backs, and they pull for each other. All summer long, they’re together. It’s like a family.”
The state title game appearance wasn’t expected. The same group exited the playoffs in the first round the season before, and Zachery was just looking to take a step or two.
After breezing through Region 4-AA play, Crawford County took its first step in the playoffs with a 96-89 win over Dublin.
A much bigger hurdle awaited in the second round. Greater Atlanta Christian, the defending Class AA champion, finished second in its region to Pace Academy. That meant Crawford County would host GAC in the second round if the seeds held up, which they did.
Facing an opponent with plenty of size, Zachery and Crawford County stuck with what they did best all season: work the ball inside, then kick it back out for the open shot.
Crawford County prevailed 88-81 in overtime. The Eagles went on to beat Thomasville and Swainsboro before falling to Seminole County in the title game.
“We knew coming into the season that we would be pretty good,” Zachery said. “I think they superseded the effort. They put forth an awesome effort to accomplish what we did.
“As I told them, ‘We got to the door, we opened it this year, and hopefully next year we can close it behind us.’ ”