Jayden Caira and the Jo Byrns Red Devils had every intention of getting even in their Region 5-A semifinal game against Culleoka.
The Warriors ended Caira’s junior season last year in the regional quarterfinals with a late 81-72 win. Jo Byrns would have the last laugh one season later, however, as the Red Devils rolled in a 65-39 win over CHS to advance to the regional championship game.
“We talked about having payback,” said JBHS head coach Jojo Northington. “Last year when we went up there, it really was a closer game than (nine) points… We talked about having a chip on our shoulder and getting some payback, because several of those guys were on the team last year. We achieved that. We got our payback plus some.”
Last year’s meeting saw Jo Byrns ahead by a single possession in the closing moments, but a late surge from the Warriors ultimately ended the Red Devils’ season. The first 13 minutes of Tuesday’s game created more of the same, with Culleoka within one possession and even leading 9-7 at the end of one.
Jo Byrns held a one-point lead with three minutes to play before halftime and finished the quarter on a 12-2 run to distance themselves from the Warriors. The second half saw the Red Devils outscore CHS 39-24.
“It feels great, best feeling in the world,” Caira said of getting revenge. “This year, we’re a different team. We play a lot better together, so we came in, and our mindset was to keep our foot on the gas pedal and don’t give up the whole game.”
Caira, who finished the evening with a team-high 17 points, said that their first look against a box-and-one defense this season created offensive problems early, but his team’s ability to run in the fast break through the final three periods broke open the game for good.
The guard’s cross-court passes constantly injected life into his team’s offense. He accounted for six of the Red Devils’ 18 assists on the evening, each pass landing with pinpoint precision.
“I love to do it,” Caira said. “I love just kicking it up, because I don’t waste any energy doing it. My teammates are running for me, so it’s easy. I like it and our gym is a lot bigger than theirs, so I think that’s kind of a reason. But we’ve been doing that all year. We like to run and kick it up.”
Jo Byrns’ defense paid dividends in the second half as well. The Red Devils limited Landon Andrews and Cooper Parks — two 1,000-point scorers for Culleoka — to a combined 18 points on the night. The Warriors’ 39 points is their lowest point total of the season. Jo Byrns has not allowed over 60 points to an opponent since Jan. 4.
But the Red Devils must now put everything behind them and instead focus on hosting the Region 5-A championship game against Richland. The Raiders are 24-1 and most recently downed Houston County 62-27 in their region semifinal game. No matter the outcome of Monday’s contest, Jo Byrns will continue to the sectional round.
“Everything is falling into place for us; I don’t know how to explain it,” Northington said. “We get to host the last three rounds of the tournament, now we get to host the region championship here. Everything’s falling into place for us, but now we just have to go out there and take care of business and get it done, whoever we play.”
Jo Byrns (65): Jayden Caira 17, Ryan Dowlen 14, Taylor Head 9, Bryce Cox 8, Logan Head 7, Kenny Tolliver 7, Dylan Dotson 3
Culleoka (39): Cooper Parks 18, Tavon Basgby 9, Hunter Harris 4, Chris Hutcherson 4, Erik Mick 4