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Building some momentum

LINDEN — The Patriots (9-5, 6-1) hit the gym for a light practice Wednesday in preparation for their final regular-season game against Sweet Water.

“They’re going to come out and play hard. They’ve got something to play for,” Linden head coach Joe Eatmon said of the Bulldogs.

Sweet Water is locked in a three-team battle to determine second place in Class 1A, Area 5; the same area to which Linden has already laid its claim to the top seed in the upcoming tournament.

While the Pats have already solidified their right to host the upcoming area tournament, Eatmon and his players have no absence of motivation.

“We’ve got our goals at stake,” Eatmon said.

Chief among those goals for Linden is an 11-0 finish. The Patriots started the season off a 1-5 before embarking on their current eight-game win streak.

According to Eatmon, a key part of that run for the Patriots has been the leadership of the team’s eight senior players.

“Those guys are huge,” Eatmon said. “We have such great senior leadership. It makes it easy for a rookie coach like myself.”

“It’s big because it’s our last year. We’re experiencing a lot of new things,” senior Shantrell Braxton said of the group, which has spent a large portion of its season adjusting to a new coach and a new role on the team.

During the team’s slow start, senior point guard Martez Owen was forced to sit back and watch after transferring into the school.

“It was bad because I hate just sitting and watching basketball, especially when it’s my team,” Owens said.

The diminutive floor general said the Patriots’ run has been fueled primarily by the team’s philosophy.

“Believe. Have faith,” Owens said of the Pats’ approach to the game. “Coach (Eatmon) pounds it into our head every game, every practice.”

For the Patriots, who last lost on Dec. 27 at Demopolis, wins in the final three games of the season are essential in realizing their goal of a perfect finish.

“We have to stay focused,” Braxton said. “We have to play (Sweet Water) just like we played them the first time. We don’t have time to slip up.”

After wrapping up its area schedule tonight at SWHS, the Patriots will host Demopolis Saturday.

The last time the squads met, Linden made a late-game run to make the contest closer.

“But our last loss, it gave us a little confidence,” Braxton said of the run that he points to as a turning point in the team’s season. “We saw what we could do. We’ve come together now and we’ve gone on a winning streak.

“Rival games are always big for the kids,” Eatmon said. “I’m more concerned with our goal of being 11-0 and there’s no way we can be 11-0 without getting after it.”

The Patriots’ final game will come on Jan. 31 at Livingston.