When he woke up Saturday morning, Cartersville's Isaac Gridley didn't think he would be playing in that afternoon's home game against Central-Carroll. The senior had been planning to make his return from injury on Tuesday when the Canes hosted LaGrange.
His head coach also didn't show up to The Storm Center with the idea to play Gridley. Mike Tobin, though, did think it would be nice to get his 6-foot-8 versatile forward a run out during pregame warmups.
Gridley took that as confirmation that he would be playing.
"Our plan really wasn't to have him come back until Tuesday," Tobin said. " ... I told Ike [he could go through pregame warmups], and he took that as I was going to let him play. I said, 'You can talk to [head trainer Phillip] Hardy.' And Hardy said, 'Well, maybe you can let him play a few minutes.'
"He's a smart enough kid. I trust him."
So Gridley came off the bench less than three minutes into the game to a loud ovation from the home crowd and cheers from his teammates. The roar was noticeable every time Gridley made a big play, which was nearly as frequent as when he's fully healthy.
Gridley only had six points, but he made plenty of big plays in helping boost the Canes to a 69-57 Region 5-AAAA victory over the Lions.
While Gridley's scoring stroke will take a little time to return, as expected after missing three weeks, his impact on defense was evident on nearly every Central possession. The Lions (5-10, 0-2) had a few shots blocked, some altered and countless others not even attempted due to his presence.
Gridley, though, was far from the only player to stand out for the Canes (7-7, 1-1) on Saturday.
Fellow seniors Perignon Dyer and Taywuan Johnson each finished with 19 points. Both were a constant scoring threat through the game, putting up points in every single quarter.
Dyer shined brightest in the middle two quarters, as he put up 13 of his points and two of his three 3-pointers. Johnson never scored more than five points in a single period but never had fewer than four.
While it was unsurprising to see Dyer fill up the scorebook, as he's been leading the Canes in points virtually every game since Gridley's injury, it was a much-needed lift for the offense to get nearly 20 points from Johnson.
"He had a real good game," Tobin said of Johnson. "Being a senior, we know he has that in him. He's just got to keep getting some confidence and hitting some shots. He's got that floater down pat. He's been struggling with it a little bit this year, but he did a good job today. I thought he played real well."
The Canes, as a whole, played well. After a tough setback Friday night at Cedartown, Cartersville came out with a lot of intensity, particularly on the defensive end.
Central couldn't get anything going in the first quarter, as the Lions trailed 18-6 after one. In fact, Cartersville sophomore Kolbe Benham outscored the visitors in the opening frame, dropping home seven of his nine in the period.
The Lions made a solid push in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 24-17 at one point. A 13-0 run by the Canes pushed the lead to 20.
Central cut into that lead as the game went on, trailing 39-22 at halftime, 50-34 after three quarters and 69-57 by the end of the game. However, the Lions were never able to get closer than 10 points, allowing the Canes to ease to victory.
Due to the nature of the scoreline, Saturday's game provided the perfect opportunity for Gridley to work his way back into form. He'll no doubt be better off Tuesday after getting to play for a healthy portion of Saturday's win.
Getting Gridley back to 100 percent has probably felt like a long arduous process, but considering it seemed as though he might be out twice as long, if not the entire season, his return in early January is a welcome sight.
Tobin has been holding out hope that a fully fit Gridley would be the difference for a team that has spent a majority of the season floating around the .500 mark. The coach said the goal is to grab a top-two seed in the region, just as the Canes did last year, to secure a spot in the state tournament.
That could still be a longshot, but Gridley's return certainly gives Cartersville a more realistic chance of making it happen.
"When he left, he was literally averaging about 18 points a game, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots," Tobin said of Gridley. "To lose that was devastating. To get that back is going to be huge."