CLASS 4A BOYS NORTHEAST REGIONAL FINAL: Top-ranked Westminster ends Warriors’ season again by Shannon Fagan, Sports Editor
JACKSONVILLE – It’s been 10 years since the Cherokee County Warriors claimed their only Northeast Regional basketball championship.
On Wednesday, the 2015-16 Warrior team had a chance to add another regional title to the school trophy case, but standing in their way was the team that knocked the Warriors out last year, top-ranked Westminster Christian.
The Wildcats managed to hold eighth-ranked Cherokee County to its lowest offensive output of the season to claim a 36-29 victory. The two teams met earlier this season in the Albertville Christmas Tournament, with the Warriors claiming a 65-51 victory in the tournament semifinals on Dec. 29.
Westminster Christian (28-3) advances to the Class 4A state semifinals in Birmingham on Tuesday against Handley. Cherokee County’s season ends at 25-8.
“Tough game for us,” Warrior head coach Neal Wester said. “We didn’t play well offensively, and of course they had a lot to do with that. They play really good defense and made more shots than we did.”
The past two seasons, the Warriors have relied on the 3-pointer to get their offense rolling. On Wednesday, the Wildcats held Cherokee County to just 3-of-23 3-pointers for the game (10-of-48 shots from the floor overall). Senior sharpshooter Joel Wester was just 2-of-13 from the arc and finished with 13 points.
“When they’re playing you tight, it’s tough to get good looks,” the younger Wester said. “We didn’t get many good looks. We shot a lot, but we really didn’t get many good looks at all.”
Seven of Joel Wester’s points came in the first half. He tied the game at 17 on a bucket and foul shot with 10.9 seconds left before intermission, but the Wildcats’ Trey Petty sank a trey at the buzzer to give Westminster Christian a 20-17 halftime advantage.
The defensive battle continued in the second half. The Wildcats managed to build a 27-22 lead by the end of the third quarter, but the Warriors still managed to hang around. Joel Wester’s second and final trey of the game came with 4:31 remaining, cutting Westminster Christian’s lead to 31-27.
However, that would be the final field goal the Warriors would make as the Wildcats held on down the stretch for the win.
“Every time we play, it’s ugly,” Westminster Christian head coach Ronnie Stapler said. “I thought the first half we really had a chance to spread the game out a little bit, but we got a little selfish and took some one-pass shots. We tried to overpass a little bit. We got to the bucket two or three times and tried to make another pass and got it knocked away or deflected instead of just finishing. But, I thought the whole game we did a good job defensively. I think every bucket they got was a contested bucket. That was our whole deal.”
Stapler said much of the Wildcats’ game plan was to prevent Joel Wester and Quartez Henderson from getting easy baskets.
“If you let them catch the ball in rhythm, they’re really good,” Stapler said. “If they caught it, we just tried to get high hands on them and not let them catch and shoot in rhythm. Make them drive it. Make them put it on the floor to shoot it or make them drive it somewhere and try to shoot it. I think for the most part we did that.
“Joel has such good range. He can shoot it from 25, 26 feet. You’ve got to really press up on him because he’s a big kid. If you don’t get high hands on him, he can shoot it over a smaller guy. I thought we did a good job of making him take tough shots and making Quartez take tough shots.”
Petty earned the Class 4A Northeast Regional Most Valuable Player honor after scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds for the Wildcats. John Kendall added seven points and five boards. Tysean Whitehead finished with four points, six boards, three blocks and three steals.
Kendall and Whitehead joined Petty from Westminster on the all-tournament team.
Henderson added eight points for the Warriors. Nahum Horton had three points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
Horton and Wester represented Cherokee County on the all-tournament team.
“I’m really proud of our guys. They fought hard,” Coach Wester said. “I’m proud of our seniors (Joel Wester, Horton and Morgan Ray). These last two years have been great and I hate to see it end for them. It was just two good teams battling it out, and they made a few more shots than we did.”
2015 Cherokee County Warriors
The Warriors are coached by Neal Wester and assisted by Justin Taylor and Casey Hansard. Photo courtesy of Billy Garrett.
CLASS 4A NORTHEAST BASKETBALL REGIONAL: Warriors survive Priceville, advance to regional final
JACKSONVILLE – Defense saved the day for the Cherokee County Warriors in their Class 4A Northeast Basketball Regional semifinal game against Priceville on Saturday evening at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Trailing by three, the eighth-ranked Warriors caused five turnovers in the final 2:15 and prevented Bulldog senior guard Kyle Hayes from making the game-tying basket on the final play of the game, allowing eighth-ranked Cherokee County to escape with a 45-43 victory.
The win sends the Warriors to the regional final against top-ranked Westminster Christian on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.
“It was just a heck of a high school basketball game. We were fortunate to come out on the good end,” Cherokee County coach Neal Wester said. “It could have gone either way, but we made a couple of big plays there down three. We just made a couple of more plays than they did.”
For the better part of three quarters, it didn’t appear as if the Warriors (25-7) would need a defensive stand down the stretch to secure their first regional final berth since 2008. They built an 11-point lead at 38-27 with 3:04 left in the third quarter on a basket and foul shot by Chris Roden. The Warriors still led by nine at 40-31 following a pair of Nahum Horton free throws with 7:04 left in the game, but that’s when the Bulldogs (22-10) made a run and eventually took the lead.
The Warriors went without any points until 2:09 left in the contest on a steal and a layup by Quartez Henderson, but before that basket, Priceville had gone on a 12-0 run to take a 43-40 lead.
Henderson’s bucket trimmed the Warrior deficit to one at 43-42, then a steal by Jacob Graves led to a pair of foul shots by Joel Wester with 1:37 to go, putting the Warriors back out in front 44-43.
A missed jumper by the Bulldogs’ Marc Anthony McClendon on the other end was rebounded by Horton. Following a Warrior timeout, Henderson was fouled and sent to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
Henderson missed the first, but made the second, extending Cherokee County’s lead by one at 45-43 with 24 seconds remaining.
Haynes missed a 3-pointer on the other end, which Graves snatched for a rebound, but he lost the ball out of bounds. That gave the Bulldogs the ball underneath their own goal with 9.6 seconds remaining.
Austin Smith in-bounded the ball, but it was forced back out of bounds by the Warriors. Smith in-bounded once again to Parker Gwin, who found an open Haynes driving to the basket. With several Warrior defenders collapsing around him, Haynes rushed a layup that fell short as time expired.
“That’s a tough way to lose it,” Priceville coach Darrell Haynes said. “We had a chance. Maybe the first time these guys having been here, maybe nerves had something to do with the way we played. Cherokee County had something to do with that also. We dug a hole early and didn’t play well in the first half, but we were somehow able to keep it six points at the half. We did a little better in the second half. We were up three there the last couple of minutes, but we just couldn’t string it together.”
As Coach Haynes said, the Bulldogs trailed by a 31-25 margin at halftime, and maintained a 38-31 advantage heading into the fourth. The Warriors’ scoring drought began with just a little under seven minutes to go in the game.
“We kind of got stuck and quit scoring for a while, but they had a lot to do with that,” Coach Wester said. “They were playing good defense. We kind of got down there with 2 1/2 minutes there, down three like we were the night of the sub-region game (against Saks), but our guys just kind of stayed with it and kept their composure. We got a couple of defensive plays and that’s kind of what did it for us.”
Joel Wester led the Warriors with 13 points, including three treys. He was held to just two points in the second half.
“We started out really hot,” the senior guard said. “We were fired up and our shots were falling. They stopped falling, but we just had to hang in there and rely on our defense. We held them to 43 (points), and if we can hold them to 43, then we can usually get more than that. We just went to our defense when our shots weren’t falling. Down the stretch, we just kept battling.”
Tyren Dupree added 12 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Henderson had eight points, six boards, four assists and three steals. Horton finished with six points, 14 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist.
“We just try to base our game on defense,” Dupree said. “We know we can score, but as long as we play good defense we feel pretty good about how the game will come out.”
Gwin led Priceville with 10 points. Smith added seven points. Kyle Haynes had six points, eight boards, two assists and two steals. McClain Thompson finished with six points.
With Saturday’s win secured, the Warriors can turn their attention to top-ranked Westminster Christian. The Warriors lost to the Wildcats 43-38 in last year’s regional semifinals. The two teams have already met once this season, with the Warriors claiming a 65-51 victory in the Albertville Christmas Tournament semifinals on Dec. 29.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge and we’re excited to be in the next round,” Coach Wester said. “We’re proud of that, but at the same time I don’t think our guys are satisfied at all. We’ll go back to the drawing board, try to get better next week, and come back and play a little better.”
CLASS 1A GIRLS NORTHEAST REGIONAL FINAL
Garden grinds out victory over Winterboro, returns to Birmingham by Shannon Fagan, Sports Editor
JACKSONVILLE – Spring Garden junior guard Savannah Dempsey showed flashes last season of being a clutch shooter in the big games.
She continued adding to that resume on Monday in the Class 1A Northeast Regional final against seventh-ranked Winterboro.
With the fourth-ranked Lady Panthers leading by seven at the end of the third quarter, Dempsey opened the fourth with her third trey of the game, giving Spring Garden a 10-point cushion.
Then, with just over three minutes left in the game, Dempsey delivered the dagger that put the Lady Panthers up 11 in a 47-35 victory that sends Spring Garden back to Birmingham.
“I just felt like it was my time to make a shot,” Dempsey said. “I knew they were sagging in on Tookie (Tykeah Rogers), and Madison (Sides) hit those threes. I just felt it as soon as I pulled it. I didn’t realize it was that close of a game. I didn’t realize it was that big of a shot, to be honest.”
Dempsey may not have realized how big her final trey was, but head coach Ricky Austin sure did.
“I think we relaxed when that happened,” Austin said. “Savannah’s been making big shots for two years for us, and that may be the biggest shot she made in her career.”
Senior guard Sides also realized the importance of her teammate’s final trey.
“We kind of got out control a little bit, and I think that just made everybody relax,” said Sides, who led the Lady Panthers (29-4) with 15 points. “From then on, we just played our game.”
Dempsey finished with 12 points, all on treys. Senior center Rogers posted 14 points and 14 boards. Dempsey, Sides and Rogers were named to the all-tournament team, with Rogers earning the Most Valuable Player honor.
“We knew they were going to sag in on me,” Rogers said. “We’re pretty good shooters, but we had to know we were going to get our shots. I think we did pretty good getting the ball in and me facing up and kicking it back out, but it was hard. They were killing me in the paint.”
As Rogers said, Winterboro (23-5) helped make the game a grind for the Lady Panthers.
Even though Spring Garden led the majority of the contest, the Lady Bulldogs managed to stay within striking distance, even with one of their best players – junior Aniya Burroughs – on the bench with foul trouble. Burroughs picked up a pair of fouls in the first half and had four with 5:22 remaining in the game. She eventually fouled out with 42.6 seconds left, finishing with just four points.
“We thought that was our opportunity to extend the lead when she got into foul trouble,” Austin said. “We didn’t really extend it that well in the first half. You’ve got to credit them for being scrappy when one of their better players went to the bench in foul trouble early.”
Spring Garden led 11-7 at the end of the first quarter and held a 21-9 advantage at halftime. Winterboro whittled the Lady Panther lead to 30-23 at the end of the third quarter, setting the stage for Dempsey’s clutch treys.
Anslea Twymon led the Lady Bulldogs with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Morgan Merritt and Nadia Estelle added nine points apiece.
Burroughs and Twymon represented Winterboro on the all-tournament team, as did Cedar Bluff senior point guard Delilah Price.
Spring Garden will play the Central Regional champion next Monday at noon at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The Lady Panthers will face the winner of Tuesday’s clash between top-ranked Keith and No. 2 Loachapoka.
Keith defeated Spring Garden in last year’s Class 1A state title game, 38-25.
“I’ve already seen Loachapoka play a couple of times, and we’ve got Keith on video,” Austin said. “They’re two good teams. Either one of them are good enough to win state. We’ve just got to get to work. We’ll have to continue to defend well, but we’ve got to keep finding ways to put the ball in the basket.”
Class 1A Regional Girls Semi-final Spring Garden 59, Talladega County Central 15
JACKSONVILLE – The Spring Garden Lady Panthers have turned in some impressive Northeast Regional Tournament performances in the past, but Tuesday afternoon’s game against Talladega County Central has to rank among the top of its best defensive efforts.
The Lady Panthers held Talladega County Central scoreless the entire second half and cruised to a 59-15 victory.
The win secured Spring Garden’s 13th Northeast Regional final appearance. The fourth-ranked Lady Panthers (28-4) will seek their 10th Class 1A regional title when they take on No. 7 Winterboro (23-4) on Monday at 3 p.m.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever done that in a half,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said of holding a team scoreless in a half. “I know we did it in a quarter before, but I don’t know about a half. I think our conditioning made a big difference there. It looked like they might have gotten a little tired and started having a little bit of trouble controlling the ball. We did an excellent job of closing out.”
“Coach Dana (Austin) and Coach Rat (Ricky Austin) have been on us about bringing our best every single game,” said Lady Panther senior guard Madison Sides, who led Spring Garden with 19 points, including four 3-pointers. She also had eight rebounds and four assists. “I think we’ve really taken that to heart and everybody is bringing their best game right now. We just knew if we were playing good defense, then we were doing a good job.”
The Lady Panthers also know if their trademark 3-pointers are falling – especially early – then things become that much easier. Spring Garden canned four treys in the first half and finished with eight in the game.
“At practice, we’ve been really pushing for who can make the first shot, and imagine ourselves making the first shot,” said junior guard Savannah Dempsey, who sank three treys and finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. “Madison has been phenomenal the whole season, and I feel like with Tookie (Tykeah Rogers) being on the inside and them collapsing on her, then it makes us more open.”
Dempsey, Sides and freshman forward Payton McGinnis each had a trey in the first quarter, which helped give Spring Garden a 17-4 advantage after one. The Lady Panthers extended their advantage to 34-15 at halftime.
As bad as things were for TCC (14-13) in the first half, things got even worse in the second. The Lady Tigers were 0-for-17 shooting from the floor the final two quarters.
“We have a real young group, but we are not going to make excuses,” said TCC head coach Robert Duncan, who started a seventh grader, an eighth grader, two freshmen and a senior in the game. “We were out there trying to do the best that we could. You just have ups and downs like that when you have an inexperienced group.”
Sophomore Marlonda Pemberton and senior Savona Garrett led the Lady Tigers with four points apiece. Pemberton also grabbed seven rebounds.
Rogers added nine points, 13 boards and a pair of assists for Spring Garden.
CLASS 1A NORTHEAST REGIONAL BOYS SEMIFINAL
Sacred Heart 94, Spring Garden 48
JACKSONVILLE – For a quarter, the Spring Garden Panthers gave top-ranked and defending Class 1A state champion Sacred Heart a tight game in the Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State University.
The Panthers trailed only by six points, but a 29-7 run by the Cardinals in the second quarter helped them earn a 94-48 victory.
Sacred Heart (26-8) advances to Monday’s regional final against Winterboro. Spring Garden’s season ends at 16-15.
“We played a great team, probably the best team in the state,” Austin said. “They’ve proven themselves against tough competition. They have a great team and great talent, but I’m proud of our kids. We battled. We showed up. We proved we could play with them for a quarter. I’m very proud of how we came out not scared, not in awe of this environment.”
Turnovers proved costly for the Panthers in the first half, particularly during a stretch in the second quarter. Spring Garden had 14 turnovers at the half, in which Sacred Heart built a 50-22 advantage.
“Once it gets rolling, it’s hard to stop,” Spring Garden sophomore point guard Riley Austin said. “It’s like a domino effect. Once one player does it, the rest of the team does it, and there’s not much you can do about it when it starts rolling.”
Fellow sophomore guard Dylan Rogers said in the second quarter “most of us were gassed.” “We got tired. They picked up their defense and we started turning it over,” Rogers said.
Rogers led the Panthers with 15 points and three rebounds. Austin added 11 points, three rebounds and a pair of assists. Draevan Bowman finished with nine points, all on 3-pointers.
Spring Garden Panthers Boys Basketball 2015-16
CLASS 1A NORTHEAST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Cedar Bluff boys, girls lose heartbreakers by Shannon Fagan, Sports Editor
Boys: Winterboro 67, Cedar Bluff 58
JACKSONVILLE – When Cedar Bluff desperately needed sophomore guards Davion Fife and Isaiha Jones and junior forward Rashawn Woods the most, they stepped up to force overtime.
But in the extra session, Winterboro went on a 12-3 run to take a 67-58 victory in the Class 1A Northeast Regional basketball semifinals at Jacksonville State University on Thursday.
Trailing by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, the trio helped lead a second-half surge that was enough to force overtime.
Winterboro (19-10) advances to Monday’s regional final where it will face top-ranked Sacred Heart. Number 10 Cedar Bluff’s season ends at 18-12.
“We fought hard, but they’re very athletic,” said Cedar Bluff coach Joe Carpenter, whose team trailed by as many as 14 in the second quarter. “The bottom line is they busted their tail. We couldn’t hit a shot in the first quarter. We dug ourselves a hole. They fought back out of that and tied it up to take it to overtime. I can’t ask any better from this bunch of guys. They put it on the line, but time ran out on us tonight.”
Fife, who led the Tigers with 17 points (15 in the second half and overtime) and five rebounds, tied the game at 44 on a 3-pointer with 5:19 to go in regulation. He tied the game again at 47 on a layup with 3:43 left.
The Bulldogs didn’t back down. They went on a 6-0 run within a minute to regain the lead at 53-47. Jones and Woods tied the game again on back-to-back treys, with Woods’ 3-pointer coming at the 1:40 mark.
Woods gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 55-53 on a rebound and putback with 40 seconds to go, but Winterboro countered with a rebound and putback of its own by Khalil Keith. Both teams had their chances in the waning moments of regulation, but things were all knotted at 55 when the buzzer sounded.
Fife scored all three Tiger points in overtime, but Winterboro managed to use its size to put the game away.
Keith and Leon Estelle led the Bulldogs with 20 points apiece. Keith also grabbed 15 rebounds and Estelle added seven boards. D’ontae Graham finished with 13 points, six boards and two assists. Quinton Hale had six points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Jones connected on four treys and finished with 15 points, six boards and two assists. Woods and Michael Croft contributed a pair of treys apiece. Both finished with 10 points. Woods also grabbed 12 rebounds.
“We made it here and we’re proud to be here,” Carpenter said. “It’s an accomplishment to be here. We’re still young. I think our program is doing well because of the work they do and the steps they’re taking.”
Girls: Winterboro 58, Cedar Bluff 57
JACKSONVILLE – Cedar Bluff senior point guard Delilah Price scored 15 of her 21 points in the second half against Winterboro and had a chance to tie the game with two seconds left at the free-throw line.
She sank the first but missed the second, which fell into the arms of Winterboro’s Taniya Garrett, allowing Winterboro to secure a 58-57 victory in the Class 1A Northeast Regional semifinals in Jacksonville on Thursday.
Seventh-ranked Winterboro (23-4) advances to face fourth-ranked Spring Garden in the regional final on Monday. Tenth-ranked Cedar Bluff’s season ends at 19-11.
“We always fight through adversity, but this time, it didn’t end well for us,” said Price, who helped Cedar Bluff rally from a 14-point deficit in the second quarter. “You always have to make adjustments in basketball. The same thing doesn’t work over and over again. I feel like we adjusted pretty well. They were taller than us, so we had to adjust in the post. You’ve got to think of how to get around that.”
And the Lady Tigers did just that, thanks to their defensive pressure.
A steal by Alexis Smith and bucket brought the Lady Tigers within a point at 49-48 with 3:56 remaining. Smith was also fouled on the play, but missed what would have been the game-tying free throw.
Cedar Bluff tied the game again at 53 on a steal and layup by Kiana Dobbins with 1:29 to go. Winterboro stretched its lead back out to four on a bucket by Anslea Twymon and a pair of free throws from Aniya Burroughs, but Smith brought the Lady Tigers within a point again at 57-56 on a basket and free throw with 33.3 seconds remaining.
The back end of a pair of free throws by Zamiya Shields gave Winterboro a 58-56 lead with 7.9 seconds left.
Smith in-bounded the ball to Price, who drove the lane and was fouled by Garrett with just two ticks left on the clock.
“They truly played great, but they were exhausted,” Carpenter said. “They pushed through to get to the end of the game, and they were able to tie it up. We told them at halftime we had been down 14 points before and ended up winning, and that we could do this. They kept fighting back and played hard.”
Price added nine rebounds and four assists to go along with her 21 points. Smith contributed nine points and six boards. Dobbins delivered eight points and four boards. Marigrace Wilson and Ollina McClellan both had six points. Wilson also pulled down nine boards and McClellan had five.
“It’s been a great season, one of the best seasons in my life,” Price said. “These girls have the best attitudes I’ve ever seen. Every one of us laid everything on the line. It just didn’t turn out well for us.”
Twymon led the Lady Bulldogs with 25 points, 16 rebounds and a pair of assists. Aniya Burroughs contributed 12 points and 12 boards. Garrett had nine points and six rebounds. Nadia Estelle finished with five points and five boards.