E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont Excel-lent

Bulldogs reach 3A boys title game, play for first state title in basketball Friday

By East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – Piedmont offset a decided height disadvantage with its typical tenacious style and beat Excel 65-48 Tuesday in the Class 3A boys semifinals.

The Bulldogs (23-11) will play Madison Academy for their first state title in basketball Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the BJCC. They haven’t played for the state title since 1936.

“When we were 1-4 I figured we’d have a better season, but I’ve got to be honest, I never pictured this being the end of it,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said. “I knew we’d be better, but I wasn’t sure it’d be this great.

“I thought they did the things we talked and stressed about. That shows they were ready to play.”

The Bulldogs got through it by playing basically the same way that got them here.

Excel (21-7) came into the game with four starters over six feet tall; the Piedmont had only one. But the Bulldogs played good team basketball and put the Panthers away with good defense and balanced scoring. Above all, they were patient.

During their current eight-game winning streak, they have held their opponent to fewer than 50 points seven times.

“Coach stressed to us to play our game,” Taylor Hayes said. “That’s how we played at JSU to get here. We took the ball to the hole and made our free throws.”

Hayes led Piedmont with 18 points; he was 12 for 16 at the free throw line. Bayley Blanchard had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Darnell Jackson had 11 points.

The Panthers got the bulk of their points from Christian Gross (17) and Quamie Penn (17). At one point in the third quarter, with Penn out with foul trouble, Gross had half of the Panthers’ points.

Now it’s time to consider history. Madison Academy has played in more state finals in the last seven years than Piedmont has played in its history. The Mustangs won it 2013, were runnerup in 2009 and 2010, and won it three years in a row between 2006 and 2008.

Piedmont’s only other appearance in the state basketball final was 1936, when it lost to Sardis 41-13.

“I know what’s coming down the road,” Lewis said. “It’s one of those things you hope they show up and play really well.

“I know we’re going to be a severe underdog … that’s OK with us to get there. To be the champ you’ve got to beat the champ. I hope they come out and won’t be intimidated by the name because I know the name is an intimidating one in the state of Alabama.”

Blanchard said there are a number of former Piedmont players who have been following the Bulldogs’ remarkable run. The last surviving member of that 1936 teams is said to have passed in 2013.

“Some have messaged us on Twitter and texts to go there and do it and do it big,” he said. “Us watching them back then and us being a part of it and actually making it to the championship game now is a great feeling.”

The best records available indicate that 1936 team of Zeke Kimbrough went 13-7 and 7-2 in postseason play. The only two losses in that closing stretch were at the hands of Sardis.

“That was a pretty big deal back in the day with one class,” said Mike Naugher, who along with Ken Grissom has done extensive research on the 1936 team.

Piedmont 65, Excel 48

PIEDMONT (23-11) – Darnell Jackson 5-9 0-0 11, Taylor Hayes 3-11 12-16 18, Tyler Lusk 1-6 3-5 6, Bayley Blanchard 5-11 1-2 12, Austin Brazier 4-7 1-2 9, Easton Kirk 1-8 0-0 2, Cardavian Myers 0-0 0-0 0, Malik Gamble 0-0 0-0 0, Neonta Alexander 0-0 0-0 0, Derrick Baer 0-1 0-0 0, CJ Savage 3-6 1-1 7, Cody Daughtry 0-2 0-0 0, Brett Akin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-61 18-26 65.

EXCEL (21-7) – Christian Gross 6-18 4-6 17, Quamie Penn 7-17 0-0 17, James Hudson 0-9 1-2 1. Madison Hall 1-5 0-2 2, Devin Betts 2-10 0-0 4, KeDarris Thomas 1-4 0-0 2, Cole Blackmon 1-2 0-0 2, Raphael Holmes 0-1 0-0 0, Jamarus Dean 0-0 0-0 0, Robert Richardson 0-0 2-2 2, Nick Richardson 0-2 0-0 0, Shawn White 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-69 8-14 48.

Piedmont 17 18 13 17 — 65
Excel 12 14 10 12 — 48

3-point goals: Piedmont (Jackson 1-4, Hayes 0-2, Lusk 1-3, Blanchard 1-2, Brazier 0-1, Kirk 0-7, Baer 0-1, Savage 0-1, Daughtry 0-1); Excel 4-25 (Gross 1-6, Penn 3-6, Hudson 0-8, Thomas 0-3, Blackmon 0-1, Holmes 0-1). Rebounds: Piedmont 50 (Lusk 9, Brazier 8); Excel 46 (Betts 11, Gross 8). Total fouls: Piedmont 10, Excel 18. Officials: Cone, Mims, Carr.

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