E.A. Sports Today

Blanchard beats back pressure

Senior point guard calmly sinks free throw with less than a second left in overtime to bring Piedmont another narrow victory

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – Bayley Blanchard stood at the free-throw line for a few moments with his head down, knowing the game was on the line with just one-tenth of a second left in overtime and the game tied.

When the Piedmont senior point guard lifted his head to look toward the goal, he couldn’t help but see several Cherokee County High School students and fans making their way to the gym wall in an attempt to heckle him.

But Blanchard didn’t mind the added pressure. He sank his first shot, which proved to be enough for the Class 3A Bulldogs to capture a 68-67 victory over their longtime rivals.

“It’s just great to get that chance and have that opportunity,” said Blanchard, who finished with 14 points. “I stepped up there and just had this calmness about me. I probably knew most of those guys trying to stand back there (near the wall), so having confidence was the big thing.

“I’ve been working on free throws a lot because I’ve been struggling. Coach (Tommy) Lewis had a lot of confidence in me, and it was just great to sink it. It was a great win.”

Blanchard had that opportunity because the game officials called a foul on the Warriors’ Tyren Dupree, who made an attempt at a steal near the Piedmont bench. After a conference at the scorers’ table, the officials decided the foul occurred before time ran out.

“Sometimes you catch that break and sometimes you don’t; we caught it tonight,” Lewis said. “We basically were going to force another overtime. We didn’t choose to (get fouled), but (Dupree) went for the steal and they called it.”

Blanchard’s game-winning free throw spoiled a 26-point performance from Joel Wester. The Warriors senior guard connected on six 3s, four in the first half. Cherokee County hit 10 3-pointers as a team.

Cherokee County head coach Neal Wester said he hated to see the game end the way it did. Piedmont connected on 15 of 21 shots from the foul line; Cherokee County finished 4 for 7.

“It’s a loose ball, and both kids were going for it with basically no time left on the clock,” Wester said. “They got the call and got to shoot free throws with basically no time left on the clock, but it’s tough to win on the road.

“Our guys have been in some tough battles, and we’ve come out on the good side on some and not so on some. Hopefully, this is an experience that will help us in the area tournament and beyond. We battled and came back at the end of regulation. We had a shot, but just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

The game was tight throughout. Piedmont took a 56-55 lead with 3:53 remaining in regulation on a three-point play by Austin Brazier and extended it 59-55 just 27 seconds later on a 3-pointer by Easton Kirk. Brazier delivered 13 points for the Bulldogs and Kirk 12, including three 3s.

Wester tied it and forced overtime with a 3 with 32 seconds left.

Piedmont scored first in overtime on a layup by leading scorer Darnell Jackson (21 points). Cherokee County tied it on Quartez Henderson’s jumper with 2:34 left.

Piedmont’s Taylor Hayes connected on a pair of free throws at 1:56 to push the Bulldogs back out in front, but a rebound and putback by Henderson knotted the game again at 67 with 1:35 left. That set the stage for Blanchard’s game-winning shot from the line.

“We could have got it in regulation, but we just made too many mistakes,” Blanchard said. “We’ve just got to limit the turnovers there at the end. I’m just glad we got the rebounds like we needed to at the end and hit the shots we were supposed to.”

The two teams will battle it out again in Centre next Tuesday.

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

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