COVINGTON, Ga. — Don’t look now, but the Eastside boys’ basketball team is getting hot.
And they’ve shown no signs of cooling down anytime soon.
On Friday, Jan. 8, the Eagles traveled to Athens to square off against Region 8-AAAAA-leading Clarke Central. They were overmatched by the Gladiators and suffered a 63-46 defeat, falling to 4-5.
That’s when their season changed on a dime.
Since coming up short against Clarke Central, the Eagles have reeled off five wins in their past six games — all of which have come against region opponents. Their latest blemish was a 69-68 loss to Loganville on the road on Jan. 12, which has since been followed by a five-game winning streak that’s included a pair of victories over Greenbrier and wins over Apalachee and Jackson County.
As Eastside (9-6, 7-3) enters the final two-week stretch of the regular season, the club finds itself in a three-way tie for second place in the region and appears poised to return to the state playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.
First-year head coach Dorrian Randolph has made his expectations for his club clear from the day he stepped on campus. He wants to send his senior class off with their first trip to the postseason in their varsity careers.
“I want to get to state my first year. That was my No. 1 goal,” Randolph reiterated following the Eagles’ win over Jackson County last week. “This is a tough region. That four and five spot, man, I don’t really want to be in that. I’m shooting for a one, two, or three seed. This is working us toward that goal.”
When asked about the recent surge his club has had, Randolph noted that it’s taken time for his team to gel cohesively. He pointed to the acclimation of football players such as Jaylen Woods and Montarious Reed — both of whom were held out through mid-December while the Eagles made a playoff run on the gridiron— as being key to their turnaround.
“Now they’re building, they’re gelling and they’re starting to come together as one,” Randolph said. “That’s really, really good to see.”
Eastside's bread and butter this season has been defensive efficiency. They're holding opponents to just 52.1 points per game, having given up more than 50 points just three times in their last nine contests.
"Our goal is always to give up no more than 12 points a quarter, which equals 48 for a game," Randolph said. "I'm a defensive coach. Offense, to me, is easy because that's what the kids want to do. That's what this game was invented on — putting the ball in the basket. We're just trying to figure out which defense fits us best as a team.
"We're still going through that process, but the guys are doing a great job of picking it up."
Eastside will hit the court Tuesday night for a monumental road game against Walnut Grove (8-9, 7-3). The Eagles are Warriors enter the matchup locked in a tie with Greenbrier for second in the region. In their first meeting this season, Walnut Grove eked out a 62-53 road win in overtime.