E.A. Sports Today

Panthers in final

Wellborn reaches Heflin tournament final through tension-filled semifinal, will play Saks for the crown

Wellborn’s Blake Hanson (23) and Cleburne County’s John Robinson mix it up under the basket Thursday night. Later, the two mixed it up in the foul lane in what became the defining moment of the game. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HEFLIN — This was not the way Welborn coach Jordan Angle wanted to leave the gym after one of the most significant wins in either of his tenures with the Panthers program.

The Panthers had just knocked off host Cleburne County 67-56 to earn a spot in the boys championship game of the Cleburne County Holiday Invitational, but there they were exiting the building through a back door to avoid any unpleasantness that may have carried over from the final three minutes of the game.

The Panthers will meet Saks at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the boys title. It will be a rematch of their season-opener in which Saks beat them at the buzzer.

“It was a little chippy,” Angle said. “I hate the way the game ended. We had some unsportsmanlike behavior from our team and our bench and our fans. It is what it is. It happens.”

Tensions flared with a little more than two minutes left in the game when Tigers center John Robinson was ejected for a flagrant foul with a wayward elbow into Panthers leading scorer Blake Hanson’s nose. A couple fans also were ejected in the aftermath and the officials threatened to remove a third. Through all that, Angle thought it best for his team to make a silent retreat out the door adjacent to the its dressing room.

Robinson or Tigers coach Ryan Chambless declined to comment on the situation or the game, respectively. Hanson left the gym with his parents.

In any event, Hanson scored 28 points and had 10 of his team’s last 11 — all from the free throw line from the point of the flagrant foul. He made one of the two flagrant foul free throws, all three after getting fouled behind the arc on the ensuing possession and four more – all to take what was a six-point lead to 14.

He was 17 of 22 from the line for the game, 10 of 11 in the fourth quarter.

“Blake’s a good player,” Angle said. “I don’t feel like he enjoys himself playing the game; he’s caught up in a lot of different things. But he plays hard. He’s gonna play defense, he plays offense, he shoots it well. You’ve got have a kid like that on the court, then, again, you’ve got to have a kid who’s got a little fire under him, who’s not going to go out there and get pushed around. I just hate the fan side of it was the upsetting part.”

Before the ejection, which Angle didn’t believe was warranted, Robinson was the force inside keeping the Tigers close, although Wellborn big man Kelvin Evans did a nice job disrupting his shot down low. Robinson finished with a team-high 20 points.

The win was significant to the Panthers for another reason. It got them over .500 (5-4) for the first time Angle could remember — and he’s coached them on two different occasions.

“The kids are excited about it,” Angle said. “We hadn’t been on the plus side of .500 in, sheesh, I don’t know how long it’s been in Wellborn basketball history and now we’re finally 5-4, got us on the plus side of .500, we’re happy. … It gives us a little momentum going into the county tournament in a couple weeks.”

Alfonza Ward hit 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to seal the Wildcats’ semifinals win over Vincent.

Saks 47, Vincent 45

Free throws down the stretch played a key role in Saks earning its spot in the championship game, too.

If the Wildcats are involved in a close game who better to have their hands on the ball at the end than Alfonza Ward?

Ward already has two-game winning shots this season – Anniston and Westbrook Christian – and Thursday night he hit four straight free throws late in the fourth quarter to keep the Wildcats on top.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit to close out games shooting free throws … and it’s cost us a couple wins,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “That was the biggest part of the night to me, regardless who it was, us hitting four free throws to ice it.”

The Wildcats still struggle at the line in the big picture – the others were a combined 3-of-12 Thursday — but Ward was pure. He scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter. Tray Huguley also scored six points in the quarter.

“I was just thinking my team needed me,” Ward said. “I’ve been taking game-winning shots lately, so my team needed me score and they gave me the ball and I wasn’t going to let them down. I knew I was going to hit them.”

The Wildcats will be playing in a tournament final for the second time this month. They’ll be looking to wash out any remaining bad taste left over from losing to Cherokee County in the finals of the Champions Sports Academy Holiday Shootout.

“We didn’t play well in the fourth quarter of that game, the last three or four minutes,” Miller said. “We hope we can use that experience to our advantage and play a lot better tomorrow night.”

Wellborn 67, Cleburne County 56
WELLBORN (5-4) –
Mitchell Raines 4 0-1 9, Eric Johnson 1 2-5 4, Jordan Montgomery 5 6-8 16, Devin Machristie 3 0-0 8, Kam Goodwin 0 0-0 0, Austin Cooper 1 0-0 2, Blake Hanson 4 17-22 28, Kelvin Evans 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 25-36 67.

CLEBURNE COUNTY – Brock Swafford 1 0-0 2, Stashun Henson 1 4-8 7, Josh Brown 3 0-0 8, Landon Embry 3 2-5 8, John Robinson 6 8-12 20, Isavia Brown 1 0-0 3, Will Morrow 0 0-0 0, Avery Gentry 2 0-0 4, Chad Brown 0 4-4 4. Totals 17 18-29 56.

Wellborn 13 19 15 20 — 67
Cleburne Co. 19 10 16 11 — 56

3-point goals: Wellborn 6 (Raines, Machristie 2, Hanson 3); Cleburne County 4 (Henson, J. Brown 2, I. Brown). Fouled out: Robinson (flagrant ejection), Swafford, Gentry. Total fouls: Wellborn 20, Cleburne Co. 26. Officials: Tidwell, Hollingsworth, Cosby.

Saks 47, Vincent 45
Darien Briskey 3 1-7 7, Devaughn Beason 6 0-0 16, Laderrick Bell 0 0-0 0, Jamal Stone 1 1-3 3, Alfonza Ward 1 4-4 6, Tray Huguley 5 0-0 10, Jakorius Watkins 0 1-2 1, Jalen Borders 2 0-0 4. Totals 18 7-16 47.

VINCENT (10-5)– Tyler Hayes 0 0-0 0, Stanley Cooper 0 0-0 0, Zavien Kelley 0 0-0 0,, Stephen Campbell 7 9-10 26, Josef Greene 0 1-2 1, Deandre Davis 2 0-0 5, Chris Hardie 4 3-4 11, Pat McAnaulty 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 13-16 45.

Saks 7 13 11 16 — 47
Vincent 12 10 15 8 — 45

3-point goals: Saks 4 (Beason 4); Vincent 4 (Campbell 3, Davis). Total fouls: Saks 12, Vincent 14.

Wellborn’s Blake Hanson drives hard to the basket during Thursday’s game with Vincent.

To see more pictures from Thursday’s games, visit www.bjfranklin/smugmug.com

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