By Lee Davis
Most basketball fans believe that the high school season doesn’t really begin in earnest until mid-February.
If that’s the case, the 2016-17 season looks as if it will be one for the books.
With the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s regional finals this week, no less than seven Over the Mountain teams – three boys teams and four girls – still had a shot at winning the big blue state championship trophy in early March. And it was a lead pipe cinch that at least one boys team will reach the Class 7A Final Four in early March at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena.
Here’s a summary of what happened in the first round of the respective regionals involving area schools last week:
In the Class 7A boys Northeast Regionals at Jacksonville State, Mountain Brook slipped by Gadsden City 52-51. The win was particularly sweet for the Spartans as it avenged a defeat at the hands of the Titans in the regionals last season. Forward Trendon Watford bagged a late free throw to give Mountain Brook the victory. Watford finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists. Ben McCool and Sean Elmore scored 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Spartans.
Mountain Brook hurt itself by shooting an uncharacteristically poor 13 free throws in 32 attempts. Coach Bucky McMillan’s team was to face Huffman in the regional finals Wednesday.
In the Class 7A boys Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville, Hoover routed Sparkman 62-40. Jamari Blackmon paced the Bucs with 26 points and six rebounds. Justin Rumph contributed 15 points and nine rebounds.
The big story may have been the play of the Buccaneer defense, which held the Senators to a paltry 33 percent shooting percentage from the floor and earned nine steals.
In the other bracket of the Northwest Regionals, first year Vestavia Hills coach Patrick Davis may have earned some Coach of the Year votes by leading the Rebels to a 58-43 domination of Bob Jones. Davis has taken a Vestavia team that had little pre-season build-up to within one game of the Final Four. Mac Smith scored 19 points to spark the Rebels over the Patriots. Mitchell Langley nailed four three-point baskets in the first half to aid Vestavia’s cause.
The Rebels’ stirring run will continue Tuesday, when they meet Hoover for the regional title. The Bucs have won all three previous meetings of the teams this season.
Hoover’s Lady Bucs are still in the running as well with a 52-42 win over Bob Jones in the Class 7A Northwest Regionals, also at Wallace-Hanceville. New coach Krystle Johnson has clearly instilled in her team the determination and pride that characterized Hoover girls basketball a decade ago. When high-scoring Eboni Williams got in foul trouble, Joiya Maddox and Jennifer Andrew compensated for the loss by combining for 20 points. Williams put together a strong fourth quarter to finish with 10 points.
In Jacksonville State’s Class 7A girls Northwest Regionals, Spain Park came within a game of the Final Four with a thrilling 52-49 over-time win over Gadsden City. Claire Holt’s successful layup at the buzzer – and free throw with no time left – sent the game into overtime. Holt finished with 17 points. Teammates Sarah Ashley Barker and Bailey Bowers scored 11 and 12 points respectively. Barrett Herring grabbed 16 rebounds for the winners.
Coach Mike Chase’s Lady Jaguars were to meet Grissom for the region crown Wednesday.
The Homewood Lady Patriots made a bid for their third consecutive Final Four appearance with a 73-34 thrashing of Brewer in the first round of the Class 6A Northwest Regionals. Star forward Ajah Wayne – now fully recovered from a devastating knee injury suffered in last year’s championship final loss to LeFlore – sparked Homewood with 21 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Hannah Barber added 13 points with seven assists.
Barber said the 9 a.m. tipoff didn’t bother the team.
“We’ve played the early morning games before,” she said. “We came up the night before and stayed in a hotel. We really didn’t think about the time – we just wanted to play basketball.”
Homewood was scheduled to meet Ramsay for the region championship Tuesday. The Lady Rams have defeated the Lady Patriots once in three meetings in 2016-17.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Barber said. “We don’t play well, we could lose. Nobody wants that to happen.”
Even in Class 1A, an Over the Mountain team advanced. The Westminster-Oak Mountain Lady Knights routed Talladega County 49-16 in the Central Regional in Montgomery’s Acadome at Alabama State University. Freshman Morgan White scored 26 points for Westminster.
The Lady Knights were to meet Loachapoka on Tuesday, with the winner earning a Final Four berth.