E.A. Sports Today

‘Unbelievable’

Weaver, Jacksonville both win area titles with miraculous victories on the road; Lady Bearcats rally from 20 down at halftime, Golden Eagles win at the buzzer

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Weaver coach Gary Atchley called time out with about 25 seconds left in the Class 3A Area 9 girls title game Friday night for the express purpose of conveying a message no one would have believed possible about 45 minutes earlier.

“Look around,” he told his players in the huddle, “you’re fixin’ to be area champions.”

At halftime that would have been hard to believe, but the only folks who did apparently were the ones in the team room. The Lady Bearcats came out with a change of heart — and defense — in the second half, rallied from a 20-point deficit to shock the world and Wellborn 53-48 to win their first area title in nearly 15 years.

“It was unbelievable,” Atchley said. “That might be one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of. It was crazy.

“Everybody in that gym wrote us off but these girls in the locker room. There wasn’t anybody who thought we were going to win, and I think that’s what makes it so special. We came out of the locker room at halftime planning on winning the ball. I told them it’s going to be amazing when everybody sees this tomorrow and you come back and win this ballgame after being down 20. We’re fixing to win this ball game and everybody in here is going to go crazy.”

Wellborn came out sharp and comfortable in its own gym and surged to a 31-11 halftime lead. Atchley wracked his brain at the break desperately trying to figure out what his Lady Bearcats could do to at least get back in the game.

He finally found an old defense he hadn’t used in three years and it did the trick.

“I sat on the bench the first four minutes of halftime and just wracked a few plays in my mind,” Atchley said. “I went back and drew it up and said we’re either going to get our butts kicked or this is gonna work and we’re going to win the ball game. This is what we’re going with. And it worked, thank God.”

It’s called “88” or “man free”, and it worked on every team the Lady Bearcats ran it against back then, but Atchley hadn’t used it in recent years because he didn’t have a big player in the middle to tie it all together. The plan was to man up the other four and put seventh-grade post Trinity Pullium in the middle and let Wellborn’s Kristyne Haisch shoot.

“I told them if you’ll do this I think we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” Atchley said. “They did it. They ran it perfect.”

Pullium was huge on both ends. Haisch didn’t score from the field – neither did many of the Lady Panthers, for that matter – and Pullium scored all 14 of her points in the second half. The Lady Bearcats cut their deficit in half by the end of the third quarter and ultimately outscored Wellborn 42-17 in the second half, 20-5 in the fourth quarter.

They trailed by four with a little over a minute to play, but Abby Gaines hit a three-pointer and suddenly they had a shot at pulling off this improbable victory. Tournament MVP Caleigh Cortez gave them the lead, then Amira Carter hit a shot with 30 seconds left to put them up four.

“I thought it threw them off their game,” Cortez said of the defensive plan. “I felt like they practiced for us to play the other defense, but when we came out in that it threw them off their game. Coach was really smart for putting that in.”

The Lady Bearcats now will host North Sand Mountain in their subregion game Monday night while Wellborn draws the tough assignment of traveling to once-beaten Pisgah.

“It was hard to believe we could come back,” Cortez said, “but one thing I kept saying throughout the second half was we aren’t going to Pisgah. That was our mindset. That’s what motivated us.”

And now they have a story for the ages – and numbers on a banner.

“We’ve talked the last three years about putting our stamp on this program and putting a number on a banner, so we finally get to do that,” Atchley said. “Area champs and sub-region. We finally get to put numbers on a banner in the gym for this class. Finally.”

CLASS 3A AREA 9 GIRLS
Weaver 53, Wellborn 48
WEAVER –
Caleigh Cortez 7 3-6 17, Rayne Beck 3 0-2 6, Emily Reed 1 0-0 2, Abby Gaines 3 0-0 7, Trinity Pullium 5 4-6 14, Amira Carter 3 1-2 7. Totals 22 8-16

WELLBORN – Vanessa Carter 6 0-2 14, Itiania Weatherly 1 1-2 4, McKenzie Raines 1 0-0 2, Katessa Carter 6 3-5 15, Kristyne Haisch 0 1-2 2, Markeisha Jones 5 1-4 11. Totals 19 6-15 48.

Weaver 5 6 22 20 — 53
Wellborn 16 15 12 5 — 48

3-point goals: Weaver 1 (Gaines); Wellborn 4 (V. Carter 2, Weatherly, K. Carter). Fouled out: Jones. Total fouls: Weaver 17, Wellborn 15.

J’ville wins at the buzzer

HOKES BLUFF – Aniya Jefferson hit a layup from the left side of the lane that fell through the hoop with five-tenths of a second left to give Jacksonville a 35-33 win over Hokes Bluff and third-year coach Tres Buzan the first area tournament title of his career after two runner-up finishes.

Jefferson’s basket came off a sharp cross-country pass from Kyra Williams.

“It was just awesome to see two seniors right there make a play to win it at the buzzer,” Buzan said. “It had been a battle all night and they stepped up and made a big play.

“I’ve had them for a few years and it was awesome to see them make that play and win an area championship.”

The Golden Eagles now host DAR in their subregional game Monday night. Hokes Bluff travels to Area 13 winner North Jackson.

Jacksonville trailed most of the game, but Williams gave the Golden Eagles their first lead with a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.

In the final sequence Williams took a midcourt inbounds pass from Jefferson with about 10 seconds to go. After putting the ball in play Jefferson immediately bolted for the goal. Williams dribbled to the other side of the floor, drew multiple defenders to her and then with three seconds left fired a perfect pass to Jefferson for the easy winning lay-in.

“We got Kyra out there, put the ball in her hands and let her make the right reads and play,” Buzan said. “We thought she could draw two defenders and told her if she drew two and couldn’t get a good clean look she had to find the open man. She beat her girl and drew more than two and found a really good look, Aniya had her hands ready.”

Jefferson finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Williams led all scorers with 18 points. Amanda Noah led Hokes Bluff with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

CLASS 4A AREA 12 GIRLS
Jacksonville 35, Hokes Bluff 33
JACKSONVILLE –
Kyra Williams 4-11 8-12 18, Aniya Jefferson 4-6 2-3 10, Kayla Broom 0-6 4-6 4, Patience Carr 1-6 1-2 3, Essence Hutchinson 0-4 0-0 0, Elizabeth Poe 0-2 0-0 0, Maddie Hall 0-0 0-0 0, Brenna Stone 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 9-36 15-23 35.

HOKES BLUFF – Amanda Noah 4-11 6-6 15, Logan Black 3-6 4-4 10, Kristen Shields 2-4 1-1 6, Kelsee Otwell 1-1 0-0 2, Kaylee Madison Ingram 0-1 0-0 0, Jayden Presley 0-1 0-0 0, Haley Simpson 0-2 0-0 0, Rebecca Payton 0-3 0-0 0, Maddie Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Wolfe 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 10-31 11-11 33.

Jacksonville 8 9 6 12 — 35
Hokes Bluff 9 13 5 6 — 33

3-point goals: Jacksonville 2-7 (Williams 2-5, Broom 0-1, Hutchinson 0-1); Hokes Bluff 2-11 (Noah 1-3, Black 0-2, Shields 1-2, Simpson 0-2, Payton 0-1, Wolfe 0-1). Rebounds: Jacksonville 26 (Broom 7, Jefferson 6); Hokes Bluff 27 (Noah 13). Total fouls: Jacksonville 14, Hokes Bluff 17.

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