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County bragging rights on the line: Newton vs. Eastside

COVINGTON, Ga. - The Eastside Lady Eagles and Newton Lady Rams will face off at Newton High School on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. and county bragging rights will be on the line. 

The Lady Eagles have been on a tear as of late with wins in five of their last six matches, but most recently slipped up against the Lady Bulldogs of Rockdale County in a close 60-57 game.

Lady Eagles' head coach Gladys King knows that her team will come in ready to play against their county rivals, the Newton Lady Rams, but knows they have to play their game and not try to do more than they can. 

"I just tell them to play within themselves and don't try to do too much. Of course, you want to go out there and have fun, but your goal is to take care of business and win ball games," King said. "I told them that I know some of you guys grew up with the same girls in this count, so they're still friends, but we're no longer friends when we hit the court."

Although the Lady Eagles have shot well from three as of late, King wants her girls to focus on moving the ball and finding the best shot, whether it be a two or three-pointer. 

King knows that this will be a hard-fought match and highlighted the Lady Rams' outstanding depth as a high mark of their team. She mentioned how they could bring in multiple quality players as something that makes them such a tough matchup.

"They have a lot of players that can come in on first string and second string and they have scorers on both of those strings," King said.

Depth has been a staple of the Lady Rams this season, and head coach Tiffani Johnson takes pride in that quality of her squad in every game. She knows she will have to implement a similar gameplan if she hopes to find the same success that the Lady Rams have had as of late.

"We just want to keep everybody fresh," Johnson said. "We don't want anyone's battery or health bar getting too low. We don't have to keep them on the floor. We can switch people in and out and keep everyone at their peak performance level."

Like King, Johnson knows that this will be a wild environment and wants her girls to keep their focus and not get lost in the hype that surrounds this game. She has continuously reminded her girls of that fact throughout the week and is hopeful that they will take this guidance to heart.

"We have to make sure we approach every game the same way, and county rivalry games are always intense games, but the key tomorrow is we have to show up," Johnson said. "We have to make sure we don't bring someone different. Bring what you bring, be who you are and be who we are as a team." 

Besides depth, Johnson highlighted a few other areas that her team will need to hone in on if they hope to walk away with a win over their county rivals at home.

"Anytime you have a team that's gelling together and playing hard, they're always hard to beat," Johnson said about the Eagles. "So we have to go out there and match their intensity and compete."

Newton Rams vs. Eastside Eagles

The Newton Rams will play host to their rivals the Eastside Eagles, and this match will put up two of the very best teams in the state of Georgia that have different strengths and weaknesses. 

For the Rams, the lack of size has been apparent since the first game of the season, but the tenacity of many of the team's excellent guards has made up for this area of the team. 

Shawn Smith, T.J. Clark, Qua Brown and Caleb Byrd have all stepped up in the Rams starting lineup and do an excellent job of fighting for rebounds and crashing the boards. This is something they will have to do against a team like the Eagles, which boasts three quality bigs in Miokaye Grant, Chauncey Wiggins and Jake Casola. 

Wiggins and Grant have been the go-to guys as of late, and they both have very different skillsets. Grant is a grinder on the boards that fights for each rebound, but head coach Michael Gerald would like to see him improve on his offensive game.

Gerald highlighted Wiggins as a guy he would like to see be more aggressive on the boards. He did compliment Wiggins for showing that fight on the boards in the last few games and hopes it continues into this weekend and beyond. 

Newton head coach Charlemagne Gibbons highlighted the Eagles level of play in these areas and also knows that they will have to try and stop the Eagles superb junior, Myles Rice. 

"Obviously, Myles Rice is the headliner for them; he scores the basketball well and keeps the ball in his hands a lot. Myles Rice is the key that makes them go, and we have to do a good job against him on Saturday night," Gibbons said. "They also have a really good-sized front line. Wiggins and Grant both present different challenges. Wiggins is a really skilled player that can shoot the ball over the top of you, and Grant is more of a physical player. They have plenty of other talented players as well."

Gibbons said that keeping emotions from running high will be a concern for any coach in a rivalry game and something that all guys will fight throughout the night. 

"We got to keep our kids' emotions down and just play basketball," Gibbons said. "I think the game really boils down to whoever can lock in and really play the way you have all year. We're really encouraging our guys this week to let their play do the talking."

Eagles Head coach Michael Gerald stated a similar sentiment as he wants his guys to come in with the mindset that this is just another game that they need to attack like every other game. 

Despite what happens, rivalry games always bring a different level of emotion and the atmosphere should be one for the ages as these excellent boys and girls squads clash on Saturday, Dec. 21.