By Rubin E. Grant
Spain Park boys basketball coach Chris Laatsch couldn’t control his emotions following the Jaguars’ disheartening loss in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A semifinals.
During the postgame news conference, he glanced to his right at seniors Colin Turner and Josh Harrington and choked up. He apologized, but there wasn’t any need to.
Turner and Harrington had carried a young Spain Park team back to the Final Four, but their bid for the school’s first state championship ended with a 73-58 loss to the Enterprise Wildcats last Thursday at the BJCC Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
“I don’t know how many people thought we could have gotten back here, but the kids did,” Laatsch said. “A lot of the credit goes to these two guys (Turner and Harrington) and their leadership. These two guys mean so much to me.”
He paused as tears welled up in eyes.
“I will say these two guys can’t lead if the others aren’t willing to follow and they did,” Laatsch continued. “They’ve surpassed a lot of people’s expectations. I’m super, super proud.”
Enterprise (25-6) went on to capture the Class 7A crown, defending James Clemens 66-64 Saturday night in the finale of the AHSAA’s 100th State Basketball Championships. Enterprise, which won its first state title, lost to Oak Mountain in the 2021 Class 7A championship game.
The Jaguars graduated eight seniors from their 2021 team that lost to Enterprise 57-56 in double overtime in the semifinals, so little was expected this season. But Harrington said he thought last summer the Jags had a shot to get back.
“With me and Big C (Turner) coming back to this team under coach Laatsch, who is an incredible coach and man, we knew we had to get the younger guys in the mix and up to the speed of the game,” Harrington said. “I thought the leadership was important in the success of this team. We were able to show what it was like to have a goal and reach it. We fell short here, but we reached many goals.”
The Jags (27-8) started slowly against the Wildcats, falling behind 16-3, but rallied to close the deficit to 18-12 at the end of the quarter. They trailed 26-21 at halftime and pulled within 26-23 on Turner’s layup to start the third quarter. But the Wildcats finished the period on a 17-4 run and took a commanding 43-27 into the fourth quarter.
“Since December, we’ve had really good starts to games and today we didn’t,” Laatsch said. “To their credit, they came out and got after us. Our kids withstood it and came back but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
“I thought their physicality and aggressive play made it difficult for us to get started. We’ve been playing in front most of the year. Today, we had to play from behind and that’s not who we are.”
Harrington led the Jags with 18 points and eight rebounds. Turner scored 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting and had nine rebounds and six blocked shots. Chase James added 10 points.
Elijah Terry had 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists to lead Enterprise. Kenneth Mitchell chipped in with 16 points.
Even though the Jags lost by a greater margin this year to the Wildcats, the pain was still palpable.
“They both hurt,” Turner said. “We were wanting to make up for the loss last year, but we came up short.”