E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont wins another tight one

Bulldogs score six points in the final 16 seconds of OT to win 8/9 game in County Tournament

Piedmont's Bayley Blanchard (21) steps in front of Jacksonville's Cam Horton to prevent him from driving to the basket Monday. On the cover, Piedmont's Easton Kirk and Jacksonville's Taye Ackles dive for a loose ball. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Picks Photography)

Piedmont’s Bayley Blanchard (21) steps in front of Jacksonville’s Cam Horton to prevent him from driving to the basket Monday. On the cover, Piedmont’s Easton Kirk and Jacksonville’s Taye Ackles dive for a loose ball. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Picks Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — If there were any team that wasn’t going to be nervous in the situation these teams found themselves in Monday it was the Piedmont Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs have played so many tight or overtime games in the last 10 days they had no reason to be nervous when they went to overtime against Jacksonville in the 8/9-seed game of the Calhoun County Tournament.

This time, like most of the other close ones they encountered, the Bulldogs prevailed. This time, they scored six points in the final 16 seconds of overtime to win 67-61 and advance to a second-round game against top-seeded Sacred Heart.

By now, the Bulldogs have become numb to close games. Over their last seven games, they lost to Jacksonville in the closing seconds and beat Pisgah by 3, Wellborn at the buzzer, Saks in double overtime and Weaver in overtime.

“Those are the games you want to be in, really,” Bulldogs senior point guard Bayley Blanchard said. “Everybody’s always talking about Steph Curry hitting game-winning shots, Michael Jordan – all that stuff. You kind of feel like you’re out there doing that.

“I don’t think anybody on this team is really nervous; they’re just excited to play, they get energized. That really gets them going. We like big moments like that.”

Blanchard, Easton Kirk and Taylor Hayes all were involved in the biggest moments of the game.

With the score tied at 61 in overtime, Kirk took a pass from a patient Blanchard and hit a wide-open 3 – “a cow shot,” he called it — with 15.8 seconds left to give the Bulldogs the lead. Hayes then stole the ball, passed it Blanchard, who gave it back to Hayes for a three-point play with 3.1 seconds left.

Kirk is used to hitting big 3s in this building. He hit five in the first half of the Bulldogs’ Northeast Regional win over Westbrook Christian that propelled them into last year’s Class 3A Final Four.

“(Blanchard) saw me open and kicked it out,” Kirk said. “It’s easy to hit an open shot when you have a point guard who can get you a great shot to win the game. I think the option was Bey Bey to win the game because he probably played better than anybody in the game and kept us in the game at the end, but my dude helped off so I was kind of open and he just dished it to me.

“I like shooting in this gym; I like shooting in any gym, really. I just try to picture it as a normal high school gym and don’t look at it as a college arena, because sometimes you get that effect of a bigger arena …. and it messes with you a little bit. I just try to look at it as our gym at Piedmont.”

Blanchard had a two-shot foul situation with 7.9 seconds left in regulation to put Piedmont ahead, but he made only one to tie the game at 59. Jacksonville had a last-second shot to win it, but didn’t get a good shot and Alex Gilbert’s rushed 3-pointer hit the rim.

Hayes finished with 16 points, Blanchard had 13, Darnell Jackson 12 and Kirk eight. Austin Brazier led the Bulldogs with 18.

Cam Horton led Jacksonville with 22, but fouled out on the fourth-quarter play Blanchard tied the game. Taye Ackles had 18.

It was the third time the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles went down to the wire. The first time, Jacksonville didn’t have Horton, the second time it didn’t have shooter Rivan Hill, and in this one Horton fouled out and Hill was limited by an injury.

Piedmont 67, Jacksonville 61 (OT)

JACKSONVILLE – Cam Horton 7-19 6-7 22, Taye Ackles 7-13 2-4 18, Rivan Hill 4-9 0-2 9, Casey Trull 2-3 1-2 5, Tahj Kirkland 2-6 0-0 5, Will Fuller 0-1 2-2 2, Martavious Long 0-2 0-0 0, Alex Gilbert 0-3 0-0 0, Jay Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Morris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 11-17 61.

PIEDMONT – Austin Brazier 5-13 8-10 18, Taylor Hayes 6-14 3-3 16, Bayley Blanchard 4-10 5-9 13, Darnell Jackson 4-5 2-3 12, Easton Kirk 3-13 0-0 8, Derreck Baer 0-0 0-0 0, A.J. Fairs 0-0 0-0 0, Cardavian Myers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 18-25 67.

Jacksonville 12 12 19 16 2 — 61
Piedmont 18 12 13 16 8 — 67

3-point goals: Jacksonville 6-21 (Horton 2-8, Ackles 2-4, Hill 1-4, Kirkland 1-3, Gilbert 0-2); Piedmont 5-16 (Hayes 1-3, Blanchard 0-2, Jackson 2-2, Kirk 2-9). Rebounds: Jacksonville 56 (Trull 12); Piedmont 32 (Brazier 9, Blanchard 8). Fouled out: Horton. Total fouls: Jacksonville 20, Piedmont 11.

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