HOGANSVILLE – They’re on a mission.
It has been a remarkable three-year run for the Callaway High boys’ basketball team.
The Cavaliers have won three consecutive region championships, they reached the state semifinals in 2014, and they made it to the elite eight last season.
The Cavaliers want more, though.
Ernest Patillo, one of the seniors on this team, said the ultimate goal is to bring the first state championship to Callaway High School.
There are banners in the gym that reflect the impressive accomplishments of Callaway’s sports teams over the years.
All the banners are black.
Patillo would like to help secure a banner of a different color that would come with a state title.
“We’re on a mission to get a red banner,” Patillo said as he and his teammates got ready for practice on Thursday, one day before the season opener.
Callaway, with veteran coach Terry Hayes once again leading the way, will open its season today against the Greenville Patriots, another team with championship aspirations.
A year ago, those two teams played a classic game, with Greenville outlasting Callaway 95-94.
While Callaway’s season came to a close in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state tournament, Greenville made it to the championship game in Class A before losing an 84-82 heartbreaker to Calhoun County.
Greenville lost all five of its starters from last season’s team, but Hayes said the team has simply reloaded under coach Walter Jackson.
“They lost their whole starting five, but they have five guys that played a lot last year,” Hayes said. “Most of them are guards. They do the same thing. They press all the time, they’re quick. They shoot the three. They try to score off the fast break.”
Although Callaway also lost some key players to graduation, this is a veteran team.
Patillo, along with Dre Martin, Joe Brown and Quantrez Cooper, gives Callaway four seniors who will bring plenty of experience to the court.
Also back is junior Braylon Sanders, who has been starting since he was a freshman.
Martin was the Region 5-AAA player of the year last season, and Sanders and Patillo were also all-region players.
No one on the team has more experience than Martin.
During the 2012-2013 season, Martin stepped right into the lineup as a freshman, and he has been an anchor on the team since then.
Last season, he scored 30 points in the region-championship victory over Rockmart, and he followed that up with three outstanding games in the state tournament.
Martin, who was also a four-year starter in football, has established himself as one of the top athletes in the history of the school, but he’s still chasing the ultimate prize.
“I’m proud, but I want a ring,” Martin said. “That’s all I want.”
Sanders was Callaway’s leading scorer in the state tournament last season, and Patillo and Brown were also key players on that quarterfinal team.
Joining the veterans will be a handful of newcomers who Patillo said will contribute a great deal this season.
“They’ll help a lot,” Patillo said. “They came from (junior varsity) last year, and I think they’ll do good. All of them can play a significant role.”
Callaway will play eight games before beginning its region schedule on Jan. 8 against Central-Carroll.
“Hopefully they’ll be peaking at the right time, at region time,” Hayes said. “You can win all these games, but if you don’t win these region games, you stay at home.”
As for these early-season games, Hayes said “we’ll mix and match, and see what happens. We have to see what we look like when the lights come on.”
Although the team has only been practicing before about a week, Hayes likes what he’s seen.
Between the veterans and the newcomers, Hayes said it’s a group of players who are committed to winning.
“They are hungry, very hungry,” Hayes said. “They have been a joy to coach. They listen to me very intently. Like I said, we’ll see what they do when they get out there Friday night.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports