The holiday tournaments are in the books, capping what was an entertaining first half of the high school basketball season. There was no shortage of quality basketball played right here in the tri-county area during the past two months. We have surprise teams that are on the rise, and we have great teams that are primed to contend for regional and state titles.
It was an exciting start, but the real fun begins now with the start of the second half of the season. Here’s a few things to keep an eye on as our local teams begin their stretch runs:
Will any of the boys teams seperate themselves from the pack in Class 6A, Area 15? This is arguably the toughest area in the state from top to bottom. No. 1 Bob Jones, No. 7 Florence, No. 10 Austin and unranked Decatur all have talented teams capable of going far in the postseason. Austin is currently 2-1 against Area 15 opponents, but the Black Bears looked out of sync while going 0-2 in the Huntsville Times Classic. Decatur, on the other hand, appears to be on the rise, and the Red Raiders’ lineup will be getting a huge boost in the coming weeks when starting post player Kendrick Cowan returns from a hand injury. Keep an eye on this race, because the two teams that advance out of the Area 15 tournament could very well be playing in the Northwest Regional final.
Contenders, contenders and more contenders. That’s what we have with our local girls teams. The area is rich with talented teams this season. The unfortunate part is that several of these teams are in the same classification. In Class 5A, Brewer, Athens and Lawrence County all have teams capable of making it to the Final Four. There’s a similar situation in Class 3A, where Clements, West Morgan and Danville all reside in the same brutal area. Which teams will break through? Who knows? There’s not a wide gap between these teams. But one thing is certain, though. The odds that there will be a local team representing both classifications in the Final Four are very good.
The quality girls basketball doesn’t stop in the classifications mentioned above. Class 6A No. 5 Austin is having its best season since 2005-06, while R.A. Hubbard, led by junior superstar Alex Gholston, appears primed to compete for a second straight Class 1A state title.
Speaking of state title contenders, how about the Tanner boys? Currently going about 10 deep, the Class 2A No. 1 Rattlers cruised through December. Matthew Hines, Greg Maclin and company practically have everyone back from last season’s championship team, and the Rattlers have lived up to the preseason hype.
A couple surprise teams emerged in the area during the first half of the season. On the boys side, Class 4A Priceville (14-2) and Class 3A Elkmont (9-5) are off to their best starts in years. Class 4A West Limestone (12-4) has done the same thing on the girls side. Will these remarkable runs continue? I wouldn’t bet against them, so don’t be surprised when these three are playing in the Northwest Regional in February.
Speaking of the Northwest Regional, two local Class 4A boys teams have that week circled. These two teams also feature two of the best players you’ve probably never seen. East Lawrence guard Orlando Davis is fantastic. Averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, he’s definitely one of the most entertaining players in tri-county area. West Limestone forward Preston Herring, an Austin Peay signee, isn’t too shabby himself. If you’ve never seen this kid play, then head to a local gym and check him out. You won’t be disappointed.
So many storylines. So much good basketball. Watching all of this play out is going to be entertaining, and that’s a gurantee.
Storylines for tonight’s first-round playoff game in Tuscaloosa:
Decatur finished fourth in Class 6A, Region 8 and enters as the underdogs against the Region 5 champion. Winners of 10 straight for the second time in school history, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa debuted in the 6A rankings at No. 9 after a Week 9 victory against Northridge. The Patriots scored a 35-14 win over then-No. 6 Northridge to clinch the region title in a matchup of undefeated teams. A 52-13 decision over 5A Demopolis followed and vaulted the Patriots to No. 5 in the latest rankings.
Decatur beat Hillcrest in the second round of the 2001 state playoffs. The Red Raiders won that contest 33-14. DHS has now made the playoffs 15 out of the past 16 seasons.
If Decatur wins and Austin beats Vestavia Hills, the city’s biggest rivals will square off in next week’s second round at Ogle Stadium.
In four football seasons with The Decatur Daily, I have never seen Decatur High play as poorly as the Red Raiders did in the first half Friday night.
But in this game, it’s all about how you finish, not how you start.
Decatur regrouped from a zero-point, three-turnover first half and scored four times in the final two quarters in a 23-3 win over inter-city rival Athens. Jordan Tibbs, Bejuan Clack and Na’Vante Williams scored TDs in the second half, and Jackson Walraven added a field goal for the Red Raiders.
Friday’s strong second-half could spark this team in next week’s opening round of the state playoffs, when Decatur travels to Class 6A No. 10 Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa. We’ll see.
Quotable: “We didn’t make one adjustment at halftime other than trying to adjust some attitudes. It wasn’t pretty in here (the locker room). We were in our own way. We were stopping ourselves with everything we were doing. Not to take anything away from them because they had a good plan and their kids played aggressively, but our guys had to just do what they were coached to do. That was the biggest thing.” — Decatur head coach Jere Adcock
This game will serve as a final tune-up for both teams before the postseason arrives next week. Decatur finished fourth in Class 6A, Region 8, and Athens was the fourth qualifier in 5A, Region 8 after J.O. Johnson was ordered to forfeit all its wins.
Both teams are coming off losses. Decatur has lost two straight against Hazel Green in Week 9 and Bob Jones last week. Athens lost to county rival East Limestone last week.
Athens and Decatur renewed their rivalry last year, with Decatur winning 34-7 in the teams’ first game since 2007. Decatur leads the overall series 56-25-2.
A few storylines for tonight’s Decatur-Bob Jones and Austin-Pell City games:
Both teams are coming off losses for the first time this season. Decatur lost at Hazel Green last week, while Austin came up short against Class 6A No. 3 Clay-Chalkville. Both have responded well after losses this year. Austin posted a 42-14 win over Athens following its only other loss. Decatur won two straight after a Week 2 loss to Huntsville and pieced together another two-game winning streak following a Week 5 loss to Hartselle.
It’s the region finale for both. Austin already has a playoff berth secured. Decatur is in, barring an unlikely circumstance. (See previous post about Class 6A, Region 8 playoff race).
Bob Jones is ranked fifth, and the Patriots have won three straight against their rivals from Morgan County. Those games were played in Madison, though. Tonight’s game is at Ogle Stadium. Decatur’s last win in the series came at there in 2008.
Today’s print feature profiles Decatur High cornerback Deondre Dancy, the Red Raiders basketball star who is excelling in his first season playing football.
Decatur High DB Deondre Dancy (Decatur Daily photo by Brennen Smith)
Coaches say playing football will help boost his skills as a point guard. Here’s what Decatur DBs coach Lee Cagle, who also coaches basketball, said about Dancy:
“I think playing football automatically makes you a more physical athlete. Taking a physical sport where you are allowed to hit makes all the bumps and bruises that he takes in basketball will help him in that aspect. It will help him rebound, it will help him on a loose ball on the floor. It’s obviously going to make him a better leader on the basketball court because he will be physical.”
This was Decatur’s worst effort of the season. Perhaps Friday night’s letdown can be traced to prematurely anticipating what would have been the season’s biggest game next Friday night.
But instead of playing Bob Jones in a winner-take-all next week for the Class 6A, Region 8 title, the Red Raiders fell to fourth in the region. Ouch.
Decatur beaten in all phases of the game. The Red Raiders couldn’t establish the trademark running game that had been prevalent in three straight region wins, and indecision plagued Decatur’s passing game. Defensively, DHS couldn’t slow Hazel Green’s D’aaron Sanderfer (100-plus yards rushing) and Rashad Anderson (100-plus yards receiving).
Bob Jones visits Ogle next week. Friday night would be a good time for this DHS bunch to get some redemption, but it’ll require a better effort than the one the Red Raiders gave last night.
Quickie recap: Hazel Green kept Decatur scoreless for three quarters and denied the Red Raiders a shot at the Class 6A, Region 8 title. With the win, Hazel Green secured a playoff berth and currently sits in second place in the region.
Stats: D’aaron Sanderfer (Hazel Green), 23 carries, 111 yards; Rashad Anderson (Hazel Green), seven catches for 118 yards and a TD; Bejuan Clack (Decatur), seven carries, 62 yards, TD.
Quotable: “I did a poor job of getting our kids ready to play. I thought Hazel Green prepared better than we did, they executed better than we did and they were hungrier than we were. We got our fannies whipped. We got it handed to us, and we got whipped in every phase of the game.” – Decatur head coach Jere Adcock