Despite a valiant effort, the Spartans fell just short of winning their first region game of the season.

Athens Academy’s boys basketball team hosted George Walton Academy last Friday. In a game that went down to the wire, the Spartans fell 83-75.

His team did not get the result it wanted, but Athens Academy head coach Michael Salvia left the game feeling good about how the Spartans handled themselves during the intense battle.

“I thought we fought hard,” Salvia said. “I thought that was a really, really good high school basketball game. They shot the heck out of the ball and we were fighting with them tooth and nail to stay in the game. At some point in the third quarter, we took the lead and they came back, hit some shots, and I thought our guys responded to their runs very well.”

George Walton brought its Splash Brothers-like offensive attack to Athens Academy and put it on full display. The Bulldogs drained 10 3-pointers in just the first quarter.

Athens Academy could not match the long-range shots but it moved the ball around and got points on the board regardless.

Kymel Williams, Ben Shar, William McKillip, Westbrook Adams and John Hays all got on the board in the first quarter.

At one point during that quarter, the score stood tied at 18. But by the end of the period, George Walton led 32-23.

The Bulldogs kept up their high-powered offense while the Spartans kept themselves in the game with rebounds and layups.

George Walton held a 43-30 lead with four minutes left in the second quarter but Athens Academy cut the deficit down to 46-41 by halftime.

Williams tied the game on two free throws awarded to the Spartans after a technical foul was called against George Walton. His shots made it a 58-58 game with 1:16 left in the period.

Isaac Rorey sank a 3-pointer seconds later to give the Spartans the lead. The game was close from then on.

The Bulldogs worked back ahead, going up 70-68 at the 4:04 mark of the fourth quarter. Around that point, Williams was on the receiving end of an accidental elbow to the eye. He was OK but had to exit the game for a couple of minutes.

The Bulldogs took advantage of Williams’ absence with a couple of buckets.

Adams nailed a 3-pointer at the 1:49 mark to cut the lead down to 75-73. Hays made a layup with 27 seconds left to make it 79-75, but the Spartans gave up a couple of buckets and George Walton clinched the victory.

“We wanted it bad,” Williams said. “We came into that game with a 3-9 record. We're better than our record shows and we wanted it bad. We knew they were a good team and knew they were gonna come out and play. We wanted to win bad. We knew we had a chance, too. Nobody's unbeatable.”

There was little chance the Spartans could match George Walton’s deep shots. The Bulldogs made 21 3-pointers last Friday.

But Athens Academy played to its own strengths to keep the game close. Salvia said he was happy to see progress out of the offensive effort given how much the Spartans work on their shooting.

“It was confidence,” Salvia said. “Half of every practice we spend shooting the basketball. That's something that we want to improve upon. It's just that guys need to build that confidence. I think that started [against George Walton].”

The Spartans got big contributions across the court.

Shar dropped 19 points, Adams finished with 14 and Hays had 10. Rorey notched 3 points while McKillip had 2.

Williams led the way, though, dropping 27 points.

The sophomore has reached career highs in various categories this season. He recorded multiple triple-doubles and double-doubles so far this season.

Salvia said that Williams has taken a big step since his rookie season.

“He has made a huge jump from his freshman to sophomore year,” Salvia said. “I think he's maturing. He's getting older. That's a big jump for any adolescent, from freshman to sophomore year, but I also think we had six or seven seniors last year who kind of held some of the spotlight. They're gone. Kymel has really stepped up and taken a leadership role on the team and that's helped his game blossom.”

The loss dropped Athens Academy to 3-10 on the season.

Though it was an unfavorable result, the Spartans see the early games of region play as stepping stones toward their greater goals.

“We want to get better every game,” Williams said. “We want to be playing our best basketball by February. If we see our potential right here, we know that next game is better and next practice is. We take it one day at a time. We're gonna get better and better.”

With region play ramping up, Salvia said he liked that his players looked comfortable in such a competitive game.

The next step, Salvia said, is cashing in on opportunities for wins.

“It gives us a lot of confidence that we can play with anybody,” he said. “We anticipate George Walton to be one of the top teams in the region and we played neck-and-neck with them down the stretch. We played them till the end. We want to be at the top when the end of the season comes and that shows us that we can play with anybody.”

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