E.A. Sports Today

It’s anybody’s game

Alexandria is seeded No. 1 in Boys County Tournament, but it’s really wide open

(All games at Pete Mathews Coliseum, Jacksonville)

First-round games
No. 8 Jacksonville vs. No. 9 Jacksonville Christian, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.
No. 5 Saks vs. No. 12 Pleasant Valley, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
No. 4 Anniston vs. No. 13 Ohatchee, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
No. 3 Sacred Heart vs. No. 14 Donoho, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
No. 8 Oxford vs. No. 11 Faith Christian, Monday, 10:30 a.m.
No. 7 Weaver vs. No. 10 Piedmont, Monday, 1:30 p.m.
No. 2 White Plains vs. No. 15 Wellborn, Monday, 4:30 p.m.

Second-round games
No. 1 Alexandria vs. Jacksonville-JCA winner, Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Saks-PV winner vs. Anniston-Ohatchee winner, Jan. 20, 6:30 p.m.
Sacred Heart-Donoho winner vs. Oxford-Faith winner, Jan. 21, 5 p.m.
Weaver-Piedmont winner vs. White Plains-Wellborn winner, Jan. 21, 8 p.m.


Final Four: Saks def. Alexandria, Sacred Heart def. White Plains.
Championship Game: Saks def. Sacred Heart.

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

This year’s Calhoun County Basketball Tournament appears to be one of the most balanced in a long time. Five teams are ranked in their respective classes and several others, if they can get hot and avoid foul trouble, certainly appear to have the ability to become a Cinderella story.

Top-seeded Alexandria (5A), No. 2 seed White Plains (4A), No. 3 Sacred Heart (1A) and No. 5 Saks (4A) all have received a ranking in the polls, No. 10 Piedmont (3A) has received consideration and No. 4 Anniston probably should be in it were it not for a very tough schedule.

Faith Christian, Weaver, Wellborn, Jacksonville and Oxford all have elements that make them dangerous, while Pleasant Valley, Donoho, Jacksonville Christian and Ohatchee have had a tough go of it and have opening-round draws to boot.

Let’s size up everyone:


The Valley Cubs are a veteran team loaded with juniors and seniors and epitomizes what team basketball is all about. Jason Johnson’s team reeled off 10 straight wins before falling to Anniston Tuesday night to move into the Top 10 in Class 5A and earn the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

They come at you in waves of 3-point shots and fast breaks and pressing defenses and can go 10 or 11 deep on the roster. Junior Dakota Kelley is averaging around 18 points a game and is a deadly 3-point shooter. Tyrelle Gay was the MVP of the Glencoe Christmas Tournament. Alton Davis is a beast on the board and averages in double figures in points. Caleb Young, Luke Tucker, Riley Shaw and Nick Porter can run and shoot with the best of them.

Their torrid fast break punishes teams that are lazy getting back on defense and the passing game is beautiful to watch. The Valley Cubs have preyed on Jacksonville, their potential first opponent, as they have already beaten them three times this season. They also have two wins over Glencoe and a huge win at Saks.

The Valley Cubs lost a four-point game to Plainview and a seven-point game to Anniston at home and when they win it’s usually by large margins.

The team that beats Alexandria is going to have to outplay it on defense. They will have to stop that fast break by guarding the rebounder and keeping him from turning and running with the ball, and the rest of the team has to get back and clog the lanes and make the Valley Cubs slow down and work for baskets.

The Valley Cubs are near 70 points in every game they play. If you can keep them in the 50’s you got a shot to beat them.


Schuessler Ware always has something up his sleeve when it comes to the County Tournament and this year is no exception. He does have the only county team that has beaten Alexandria this year — and they’ve done it twice.

The 5A Bulldogs are only 9-6 but look at their losses – twice 5A-ranked Talladega (18-2) and once to 7A-ranked 7A Gadsden City (17-3), 6A-ranked Pelham (14-3), 5A-ranked Parker team and Lincoln. They were not blown out in any of those games

The Bulldogs always run some great athletes at you that are tall and long and they’ve been finding ways to despite some serious personnel losses that have reduced their roster. They can run the floor and never let up with the pressure and, despite the record, might be the best team in the tournament.

Tray Croft is putting up big numbers scoring around 20 points a game. Mario Dobbins, Davion Tippins and DeQuan Ross can all put the ball in the basket and run the floor.

There are no easy wins against Anniston and to beat them you have to rebound. Offensively, you will need to attack the basket and try to get them in foul trouble.


These Wildcats are giving their fans the feeling that they might be on the way to Birmingham again as they have another powerhouse team. Their only losses have been a close contest to Alexandria team and a one-point loss to Geraldine.

The Wildcats start five seniors with plenty of experience from last year’s run. Coach Jonathan Miller’s team is led by senior guard Quen Williams, who can shoot 3’s from anywhere, usually does and usually makes them; he is averaging close to 20 points a game. Darion Coleman is just as sharp as shooter as Williams and is averaging nearly 15 points a game while Makel Taylor flies around the floor and is averaging around 16. Monty Young is a strong inside defender and along with Devin Harris can put together big games when needed.

The Wildcats are riding a seven-game winning streak into this week and are 6-1 in county play. They have not played the schedule Anniston or Oxford has, but it will not take them long to adjust to the speed of the game. Of course, it’s more likely their opponents may need to adjust to the speed and inside power of the Wildcats.


Chris Randall’s are having one of their better years. Their losses have been to Oxford, Saks, No. 1 4A Cherokee County and undefeated Paxton (FL). They are 9-2 in Calhoun County play and are always well-prepared. They can play a lot of kids and try to wear you down with their many looks.

The offense can go inside out with the presence of senior Nathan Gilbert who will get his 17 points a game on rebounds, drives and short jumpers and gives teams fits on the baseline. Juniors Murphy Doss and Eli Hightower add to that offensive firepower and are around double figure scoring almost every game. Sophomores Jerod Guthrie and Michael McGuirk are good for double figure scoring each game, with Guthrie emerging since the first game of the team’s Florida trip. All of these guys are selfless teammates and solid fundamentally.

They can easily score 70 points a game and to beat them you have to try and slow them down, control the boards and stop Gilbert.


The Bulldogs have quietly been putting a strong year together that has seen them move into poll consideration in Class 4A. They are 6-3 against county foes. The strangest thing about their season has been their play against White Plains compared to everyone else. They’ve lost to the Wildcats, a potential second-round foe, 71-41 and 80-50, while they have lost three other games by less than five points and played everybody pretty tough.

They open the tournament against a Weaver team they beat by 26 in the last week.

Bayley Blanchard, Austin Blanchard, Austin Brazier, Easton Kirk, Tyler Lusk, Taylor Hayes and Darnell Jackson have all had double figure scoring games this year, so who are you going to guard?


The Cardinals, one of the smallest schools in the state, have gone out and played some of the top schools in the state and have competed well. They lost by six at 7A power Gadsden City, three at Jackson-Olin and four to Leeds and have played teams from Georgia and Tennessee. When you’re good, it’s hard to get games.

When they get back into 1A play, they are almost invincible. They have won by 31, 54, 44, 21, 36, 38, 32 and 59 points.

The amazing thing is they are doing this with a freshman and three sophomores in starting roles, all of whom already are Division I prospects. Sophomores D.J. Heath, Kevion Nolan and Kavarri Ross are scoring between 15 and 20 points a night apiece. Diante Wood, a 6-4 freshman, is the total package, controlling the lane, handling the ball and has a nice shooting range.

But depth is an issue for the Cardinals and any kind of foul trouble creates big problems for them.

The Cardinals embrace the underdog role and use it as a motivator. It took them to the county finals last year and a last-second loss to Anniston. They fear no one. Who could forget their shot at the buzzer to beat Oxford in the semifinals of last year’s tournament?


The 1A Lions have won nine of their last 11 after starting the season 4-5 and have lost to some pretty good teams.

Their ability to shoot the 3 has given them control or kept them in a lot of games. Logan Williamson, Caleb McCord and Jordan Griswold are all averaging around 15 points a game and give the Lions some great outside shooting. Ryan Crosby is also a dangerous 3-point shooter. Josiah McDaniel and Jack Sills give them some help in the post.

The Lions will have trouble with tall athletic teams that can dominate in the front court, but if the 3s are falling there is no telling how far they might go in this tournament. But they open with Oxford, which has a strong presence down low and some quick rangy guards.


Daryl Hamby’s team just goes out and plays a very tough schedule, plays hard every night and by the season’s end is a team no one wants to play. They have played Saks three times, Sacred Heart twice, White Plains and Piedmont in the county and have been in most of the games; they took White Plains to the wire Tuesday night.

The Bearcats have seven players who can score in double figures, but only two senior starters. They open against area rival Piedmont, a team they’ve lost to twice this season.

Juniors Delo Forbes and Craig Copeland have been putting up around 15 points a game are very athletic and can give any team trouble. Forbes and Paul Hubbard were all-tournament team selections during the Bearcats’ runnerup finish in Tallapoosa over the holidays. Elliott Moore gives them an inside presence and Jalen Heath a sophomore who can score off the bench.


The Golden Eagles started the season 5-1, but have struggled since. They have had tough losses to Saks and White Plains as coach Ryan Chambless is battling a tough schedule.

The Golden Eagles are led by junior scoring machine Cam Horton and Sid Thurmond, but they need more from the supporting cast. Horton has a great outside shot and a tremendous vertical jump that just explodes to the basket when he gets penetration. Horton averages nearly 25 a game and lefty guard Thurmond averages 15.

The Eagles need stronger play in the post and are trying different combinations to match up with their opponents. A win over Jacksonville Christian will send them to another meeting with top-seeded Alexandria.


My surprise sleeper in the county tournament if they can keep out of foul trouble and have the outside shot going – and get past No. 2 seed White Plains in its opening-round game.

Coach Beau Winn has a very young but talented first six, but rarely has the starting five been on the court together as foul trouble, an extended football season and football camps have forced him to play without his starters quite a bit this season.

However, they are a dangerous team. Sophomore guard Blake Hanson can shoot the 3 and drive to the basket and draw fouls and has been averaging around 18 points a game the last few weeks. He struggled with the three early in the season, but has got it going now and when the Panthers need a last-second shot it’s likely to wind up in his hands.

Sophomore guard Jordan Montgomery can shoot the 3 as well, but needs to drive to the bucket a little more. Senior Corri Tignor has a double-double every night and is a monster on the boards. Senior Landon Machristie gets around seven points a game with a lot of assists and rebounds. Dontavious Miller and Aaron Parker add valuable minutes off the bench and point guard Kevin Mixon runs the show.


How can a 7-14 team possibly win the county tournament? Let’s look behind the scenes and see how Joel Van Meter has gotten his Jackets to this point. He starts two sophomores (Jakolbie McClendon and Querrian Mason), two juniors (Jalen Moore and Dauntae Lauderdale) and a senior (Kaleb Kidd). He only has two seniors on the team.

The Jackets have played 15 games against ranked teams in Alabama and Georgia, 12 on the road. They survived tough conditions on the road and once they got into area play were prepared for the most meaningful games of the year.

Mason is emerging as a leader in team scoring, averaging 18 points in four of the last five games. Jacob Baker has emerged as a 3-point threat off the bench as the Jackets can go inside-out to open up the offense. Kidd has been hitting clutch jumpers as well.

The Jackets must eliminate excessive turnovers and continue to play intense defense for all 32 minutes to be successful. This formula is coming together in the last week as the Jackets have taken the lead in their area.


Junior Micah Lee and sophomore Austin Tucker lead the Indians in scoring, both averaging around 15 points a game. Seven players are sophomores or younger as coach Bryant Ginn seeks to rebuild the Indians. They are close in a lot of games, having lost six by less than seven points, and just the other day pulled out a tight one against Wellborn.


The Falcons need 6-5 Justin Foster in the lineup to be effective. His football commitments have forced him to miss some games early in the season, but his return has helped the Falcons in the low post. The big man produces around 20 points a game and the Falcons are 4-2 in their last six. Robert Clausen does a great job of slashing to the basket and Parker Morgan and Avis Heathcock can hit from outside.


The 1A Thunder, coached by Tommy Miller, is short on numbers, but not on heart. A recent 10-point victory over Faith Christian shows how far it has come this year. Senior Daylon Brackett averages around 16 points a game to lead the offense. Sophomore Reed Murphy, freshman Walker Messer, senior Kris Armprester and sophomore Jayden Mitchell give added scoring punch.


The Raiders of head coach Ronnie Preston won their opener at Ohatchee and have struggled since; they are in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. They are 1-9 against county foes and open against a Saks team that is one of the tournament favorites. Josh Preston, Kirklin Childs, Josh Faucett and Reid Hightower provide scoring punch for the Raiders.

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