Gulf Coast looks to clinch state berth vs. PCola

By Dustin Kent
The past week has been a tumultuous one for Gulf Coast, to say the least.

Sophomore point guard KK Godwin, just one day after his return to action from a hand injury that kept him out for seven games, was arrested on Thursday and suspended indefinitely by the school on Friday.

Meanwhile, first-year head coach Phil Gaffney remains out as he recovers from a heart attack with no return yet in sight.

In spite of all of that, the Commodores (20-5 overall, 7-2 in the Panhandle Conference), can make history on Wednesday by clinching a berth in the state tournament for the first time in 11 years.

A win over Pensacola State (15-10, 4-4) would put Gulf Coast three games up on the Pirates with just two games to play and punch their ticket to Niceville for the FCSAA State Tournament just a year after finishing last in the Panhandle Conference.

“You always want to win the Panhandle Conference, but getting to state is the ultimate goal,” acting Gulf Coast coach Scott Jackson said Monday. “But Pensacola State comes in here obviously with a lot of confidence because they’ve won here before. They have to keep winning to have a chance also, so it’s gonna be a big game for both teams. It should be very exciting. We’re hoping for a big crowd.”

That previous Pensacola State win came back on Jan. 8 when the Pirates outscored the Commodores 30-13 over the final 10 minutes roll to a 93-70 victory.

The Pirates dominated the second half in the rematch Jan. 22 as well, outscoring Gulf Coast 56-37 after the break.

Gulf Coast hung on thanks largely to a red-hot start for an 88-87 win behind 28 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore forward Cam Holden.

It was sophomore point guard Jacolbey Owens who lifted the Commodores to their most recent win, putting in 31 points on 7 of 12 from the 3-point line to help GC rally from an 11-point deficit to beat Northwest Florida State 82-78.

That was the first game for Gulf Coast since the suspension of Godwin, though Jackson said the 6-1 record the Commodores compiled while the sophomore point guard was injured made the idea of continuing to play without him less daunting.

“We know we can win without him,” Jackson said. “He’s still part of the family and now a member of our family is having some difficulty. The guys are handling it really well. I think the confidence level that comes with him not being there and us still winning, I think that situation lets our guys know that they can go ahead and keep moving forward.”

If the Commodores can move forward with another win Wednesday and clinch a spot in the postseason, it would be a pretty remarkable achievement given the challenges they’ve faced this season.

“It would mean a whole lot,” Jackson said. “With coach Gaffney coming in here in his first year and changing the culture and laying the groundwork for the style we play, and with our returners finishing in last last year and now having the chance to go to state this year, it shows how much they developed as players and leaders.

“I think it’s a tribute to them and to our athletic program that a real change has been made here.”


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