E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont ‘pressing’ on

Bulldogs use stifling defense to beat Ohatchee, advance to Northeast Regional

Piedmont's C.J. Savage (30) and Darnell Jackson turn up the heat on Ohatchee's Austin Tucker Tuesday night. The Bulldogs' press forced numerous turnovers they turned into baskets.

Piedmont’s C.J. Savage (30) and Darnell Jackson turn up the heat on Ohatchee’s Austin Tucker Tuesday night. The Bulldogs’ press forced numerous turnovers they turned into baskets.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT — The chants of “J-S-U, J-S-U, J-S-U” started going up from the Piedmont student section behind the Ohatchee goal with about two minutes to go. They knew where they were going.

A few minutes later the Bulldogs made it official, closing out the visiting Indians 63-49 to earn their 20th win of the season and a trip to their first trip to the Northeast Regional since 2012.

The Bulldogs (20-11) will now face Plainview (20-10) in the Class 3A boys regional semifinals Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Jacksonville State.

“That was the realization moment,” junior Bayley Blanchard said when hearing the chant.

There was a time this season, though, when that trip seemed far out of reach and the only visit the Bulldogs would be making to JSU’s Pete Mathews Coliseum would be for the Calhoun County Tournament.

They started the year 1-4, losing four in a row, albeit against some stiff competition. Among the 11 losses they’ve absorbed, only one has been to Class 3A competition; six have come to teams that will be in regionals at JSU with them in higher classifications.

“I put that 1-4 on the board and told them this is what it looks like now, then I put a 20-5 and asked them how that looked to them,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said. “We’ve been keeping a tally on the board and we’ve been trying to get 20.

“We talked a couple weeks ago about it. If we did what we could, win most of them we should and a couple we weren’t expected to, we maybe could hit JSU with 20 wins.”

As Ohatchee (8-19) played to slow the game down, defense carried the Bulldogs through this one. They employed an active press and smothering trap, particularly in the second half, that forced numerous turnovers they were able to turn into baskets to stretch their lead.

There were two times in the second half the press was particularly effective. The first came after Tristan Woodall’s 3-pointer got Ohatchee within 31-27, then the Bulldogs went on a press-induced 11-0 run that gave them a 15-point lead. Five points in the middle of the run came directly off turnovers.

The next came shortly after the start of the fourth quarter when Ohatchee got within five. Six turnovers led to 10 points in a 16-2 run that decided the issue.

“We knew coming in we were going to press them, but we didn’t think it would work that effectively,” said senior Tyler Lusk, who was at the head of the press.

“When they got in that press I didn’t think we handled it well,” Ohatchee coach Bryant Ginn said. “We kind of went nuts and weren’t getting it to where we were supposed to get. When they didn’t press at the beginning I felt good about it, but I knew eventually it was coming.”

And because of it, Piedmont is going – back to JSU.

Piedmont 63, Ohatchee 49

OHATCHEE (8-19) – Dylan Yates 1 0-0 3, Ben Glass 4 0-0 9, Micah Lee 3 0-0 6, Owen Hale 0 0-0 0, Austin Tucker 3 13-16 22, Bryan Jennings 1 0-0 2, Tristan Woodall 1 0-0 3, C.J. Ray 2 0-0 4. Totals 15 13-16 49.

PIEDMONT (20-11) – Darnell Jackson 4 3-3 11, Taylor Hayes 5 2-2 13, Tyler Lusk 4 1-2 11, Easton Kirk 1 0-1 3, Malik Gamble 0 1-2 1, Bayley Blanchard 3 4-6 10, Austin Brazier 2 4-6 8, Neonta Alexander 0 0-0 0, C.J. Savage 3 0-0 6, Cody Daughtry 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 15-22 63.

Ohatchee 10 14 13 12 — 49
Piedmont 15 14 15 19 — 63

3-point goals: Ohatchee 6 (Yates, Glass, Tucker 3, Woodall); Piedmont 4 (Hayes, Lusk 3, Kirk). Total fouls: Ohatchee 19, Piedmont 13. Technical fouls: Piedmont bench. Officials: Bugg, Holloway, Madaris.

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