E.A. Sports Today

Win for the ages

White Plains coach Chris Randall won’t soon forget the way his Wildcats recovered from a dreadful start to get past Ohatchee

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OHATCHEE – Chris Randall has been part of some memorable wins during the more than two decades he’s been coaching high school basketball. If Saturday’s 56-54 thriller over Ohatchee isn’t at the top of the list, it’s certainly close.

The Wildcats have been going through a rough patch of late and it wasn’t getting any better after another dreadful first quarter threatened to take them out of the game.

But somewhere between the halves they found a spark and came all the way back from a 15-point deficit to score a victory that could be their springboard for a successful run the rest of their season.

“Lately everything that could go wrong has went wrong; we’ve all been struggling,” Randall said. “To start the game like that, that was a great game to lose. The guys could have easily said ‘here we go again,’ but that was a win that was nothing but guts. They just really showed some competitive spirit.

“People are going to think I’m crazy, but this is one of the most memorable wins. I can’t tell you how bad I needed it and the kids needed it. Just to show what we’re doing works; if we stick to it, trust each other, we can find a way or make a way. Hopefully we’re going to look back at this game at the end of the year and it’d be the start of something for us.

“I’m telling you, I’ve been doing this a long time and this one really, really is special to me.”

The spiral started when the Wildcats (5-5) couldn’t hold the halftime lead against Section in the TV24 Holiday Showcase at Jacksonville State and for the third game in a row they struggled to score in the first quarter.

They trailed Jacksonville 8-2 after one at home Tuesday, needed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to avoid a scoreless quarter against Piedmont Friday and fell behind the Indians 15-0 and didn’t hit a field goal until Matthew Clay’s 3-pointer a minute into the second quarter.

It’s all been attributed a lack of confidence and the lack of that go-to player they’ve been able to count on to get them out of a jam in the past.

Ohatchee couldn’t have been in a better position to break its five-game losing streak. The Indians hit four 3-pointers in the first five minutes and opened a 15-0 lead. It was 17-5 before Clay hit his team’s first field goal.

But White Plains chipped away by breaking the game into segments. The Wildcats wanted the margin at 10 by halftime; Coleman Messer’s layup at the buzzer got it to nine. They wanted it inside five going to the fourth quarter; Drake Preston’s layup at the buzzer made it two after three rapid-fire 3-pointers by Jaden Harris and Houston Conger brought them back from 11 down.

“That last minute of the third quarter gave us a lot of confidence,” Randall said.

White Plains finally tied the game on a Harris free throw with 2:30 to play and took the lead for the first time seconds later when Clay hit a free throw.

The game was tied at 53 with 22 seconds left when captain Gavin Burrage stepped to the line and calmly hit two free throws to give the Wildcats the lead for good. Burrage was 5-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter – all in the final three minutes.

“Gavin’s heart rate has never been over 60; he’s steady, he’s so calm,” Randall said. “If I had a free throw for my life I wouldn’t mind Gavin taking it. He might miss, but it’s not going to be because the moment was too big or he got nervous. If he misses, he just missed, but it’s not because he got shook.”

“I just knew I had to knock them down,” Burrage said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates and coaches down. We’ve been going through a rough stretch and this is a big win. We really needed this one. It shows how tough our team is to come back on a Saturday afternoon and get the win. The toughest team won today.”

The Wildcats were 9-of-14 from the line in the final three minutes with the game on the line, while Ohatchee was 1-of-10 in the last five minutes with chances to put it away.

Blake Buckelew, who went for 21 the night before against Weaver, ended an 0-for-9 team drought when he hit the second of two free throws with 6.8 seconds left to draw Ohatchee within 55-54.

Harris, a sophomore in his first year with the program, went to the line seconds later and hit one of two to up the Wildcats up 56-54.

“I couldn’t let my team down,” Harris said. “I just got it in my head, get it down, get it down, get it down. I had to hit them. If I miss them, I let them down. I’m just glad we didn’t give up (down by double digits early). Most people would’ve given up.”

Ohatchee did have the last shot to salvage what slipped away, but Ben Glass missed from the top of the key as the horn sounded.

“We did some good things … we’re getting better,” Indians coach Bryant Ginn said. “I thought it was one of the best games we played to date. We got after it, we did the little things right, got on the floor, drew some charges, but just in the end didn’t make enough shots.”

It was the kind of game that could stay with both teams a long time. And for one of them, that could be a good thing.

White Plains girls 42, Ohatchee 22

The Lady Wildcats changed the look of their lineup and their substitution pattern right before their long Christmas break and Jordan Sabree was its biggest beneficiary.

Sabree made her first start of the season Saturday and the sophomore guard responded with a career-high 12 points. She scored the Lady Wildcats’ first five points of the game and five of their first six in the second half.

“I was thinking it’s my time to shine and to do what I’m coached to do,” she said. “I’ve never been the type person to, like, focus on being a starter. I’ve always had the mindset that it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, so I was just playing the game I was coached to play.”

Saber had scored only 46 points all season before Saturday’s breakout game and her previous single-game high was nine in the opener against Coosa. She did remember having an 11-point game last season.

Sabree and Callyn Martin were inserted into the starting lineup for a little different look and instead of keeping the group on the floor all game coach Chris Randall substituted five at a time in two-minute intervals. It couldn’t have worked better for the Lady Wildcats and may even stick.

“We wanted to change the tempo,” assistant coach Justin Mallicoat explained. “We tried to even up a set of five and said every two minutes we’ll sub-in and sub-out and today it just worked out.

“The intensity, I felt, never let up, we didn’t turn it over much and we created a lot of turnovers. It worked out well for us. This is something we can sit back and look at over the Christmas break. This is something we can look at going forward.”

Kourtney Shuler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Ohatchee a 6-2 lead, but then White Plains went on an 18-3 run that lasted well into the third quarter to take control of the game. All three of the Tribe’s baskets in the first half – and each of their first four – all came from beyond the arc.

White Plains 56, Ohatchee 54
Coleman Messer 1 0-0 2, Houston Conger 3 0-2 9, Chase Helms 0 1-3 1, Pierson Branham 0 3-4 3, Austin Bussey 0 0-0 0, Drake Preston 5 1-2 13, Matthew Clay 3 3-8 10, Jaden Harris 2 3-6 8, Ethan Bozarth 0 0-0 0, Gavin Burrage 1 7-8 10. Totals 15 18-33 56.

OHATCHEE (1-7) – Andrew Roberts 0 0-1 0, Blake Buckelew 4 3-5 12, Ben Glass 3 2-2 10, Carson Stone 0 0-2 0, Grayson Alward 2 0-3 4, Cameron Foshee 0 0-0 0, Kevin Williamson 4 0-0 10, Bayley Tillison 2 2-3 6, Evan Keller 4 0-0 8, Domonique Thomas 1 0-11 2, Briley Hale 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 7-27 54.

White Plains 4 15 22 15 — 56
Ohatchee 15 13 15 11 — 54

3-point goals: White Plains 8 (Conger 3, Preston 2, Clay, Harris, Burrage); Ohatchee 5 (Buckelew, Glass 2, Williamson 2). Technical fouls: Helms. Fouled out: Conger, Burrage, Keller, Thomas. Total fouls: White Plains 27, Ohatchee 29. Officials: Barber, Daffron, Pratt.

White Plains 42, Ohatchee 22
Rian Chandler 0 0-0 0, Hanna Dyar 0 1-4 1, Callyn Martin 2 0-0 6, Jordan Sabree 5 2-6 12, Landry Bussey 0 2-2 3, Chasity Nelson 1 0-2 3, Ary Rosario 2 0-2 4, Lily Ponder 3 1-5 7, Jocelyn Harris 1 0-2 2, Angel Bozarth 2 0-0 5. Totals 16 6-23 42.

OHATCHEE (4-7) – Graycn Snow 0 0-0 0, Jazmine Adams 1 0-1 3, Rachel Dunaway 0 0-1 0, Tori Vice 4 3-5 12, Kourtney Shuler 2 0-0 6, Marli Hanks 0 1-4 1, Gracie George 0 0-0 0, Millie Rainwater 0 0-0 0, Regan Snow 0 0-0 0. Totals 7 4-11 22.

White Plains 8 9 16 9 — 42
Ohatchee 6 3 7 6 — 22

3-point goals: White Plains 4 (Martin 2, Nelson, Bozarth); Ohatchee 4 (Adams, Vice, Shuler 2). Fouled out: Nelson, Ponder. Total fouls: White Plains 19, Ohatchee 19. Officials: Barber, Daffron, Pratt.

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