By Mike Brown
It’ll be a new year, a new region and hopefully a new start for Richmond Hill basketball when the Wildcats open Region 1-7A play this weekend.
Richmond Hill has spent the past seasons playing in Region 2-6A but now it is a new ball game as it hooks up with Valdosta, Lowndes County, Colquitt County and Camden County.
The Wildcats (5-9) play their region opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday night when they host Valdosta (8-6. The following night the opponent will be Colquitt (0-6) which plays at Camden (7-6) on Friday night.
The Richmond Hill girls (10-3) will play Valdosta (9-8) Friday and Colquitt (7-5) on Saturday. Both of those games start at 6 p.m.
While players and fans may not be familiar with these new teams – Lowndes County (8-8) is the fifth team in the region – Coach Bill Henderson knows what to expect.
“You can look forward to seeing some really great athletes,” Henderson said. “These are teams with good size and they will present some challenges for us.”
The Wildcats, coming off an uncharacteristic 5-21 season, have struggled this season but unlike last year there is, Henderson believes, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Evidence of this can be found in the fact seven games have been decided by six or fewer points, two of which were overtime. In its last outing Richmond Hill beat New Hampstead, 64-58, in double overtime.
“Obviously we would like to have more in the win column but we’ve been in a lot of close games,” said Henderson who is in his 11th season. “We’ve had some leads in the fourth quarter but let them get away.
“I hope we can learn from them and be better prepared when we’re in that situation again,” Henderson said. “I’m encouraged by where we are and how they’re performing. I’m encouraged by the growth I’m seeing. They’re working hard and getting after one another in practice.”
The Wildcats lost three seniors off last year’s team with the biggest loss being leading scorer Brayden Baker now a freshman at Young Harris College. Baker is one of three freshmen on a veteran unbeaten Mountain Lions team (11-0) currently ranked No. 11 nationally in Division II. Young Harris plays in the Peach Belt Conference.
Junior guard Anthony Bynum leads the Wildcats in scoring at 13.0 points per game followed by junior Bryce Hendricks at 10.4 and sophomore Ahkee Mack at 9.0. The 6-foot-0 Bynum is also the team’s leading rebounder at 5.6 followed by 6-2 Hendricks at 5.0.
Bynum is the top returning scorer from last year’s team as he averaged 4.4 points per game. Henderson had 10 underclassmen play 11 or more games last year.
“Last year a lot of them had to play by necessity,” Henderson said. “There were periods of time when we had three to four sophomores on the court.”
In some odd scheduling due to travel considerations the Wildcats will play the first four of their eight region games at home. Next weekend will see Lowndes and Camden playing at Richmond Hill.
With a young team in a region which does not appear to have a dominant team this could turn out to be a blessing for the Wildcats.
“This is a great opportunity to get off to a great start,” Henderson said. “I’m pretty confident if we play the way we’re capable of playing we’ll be okay.
“We need to find consistency, finish strong, stay disciplined on defense, box out and make them (opposition) play defense. When we’ve done that this year we have played well.”
Under Henderson the Wildcats are 6-4 against Camden. They lost to Valdosta in a regular season game in 2019 but have not played Lowndes or Colquitt.