E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont, Talladega play on

Bulldogs see a 17-point fourth-quarter lead slip to one, but survive to reach 3A regional finals; Tigers roll past Arab

Piedmont’s leading scorer T.J. Fairs (23) goes hard to the basket against Pisgah. On the cover, Delo Foster blocks the shot of Gavin Rider.

To see a photo gallery from the game visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – It’s never easy for Piedmont when it comes to Jacksonville State for the Northeast Regional.

Just the overtime games the Bulldogs have played here alone are the stuff of legend.

On Saturday, their nerves got tested again. The Bulldogs nearly lost a 17-point lead in the final five and a half minutes under a barrage of enemy 3-pointers and held on through a curious final basket to beat Pisgah 57-56 and advance to the Class 3A Northeast Regional title game.

“They started making all their shots and it was very nerve-wracking,” Bulldogs guard junior forward Kaedon Jenkins said. “We’re thankful they missed those last few shots and we came out on top.”

The Bulldogs (21-11) appeared headed for an easy victory when Jenkins’ free throw gave them a 53-36 lead with 5:22 to play. That’s when Pisgah senior Ben Hembree heated up and suddenly the Bulldogs found themselves in a fight for their postseason lives.

Hembree hit four 3-pointers from that point and helped the Eagles get within one, 55-54, with 1:08 to play.

Piedmont’s T.J. Fairs (23) and Pisgah’s Ben Hembree go after a loose ball. Hembree’s  3-point shooting brought Pisgah back in the fourth quarter. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

“We didn’t really guard 11 (Hembree) near as well as we should have,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said. “But 5 (Jared Wilks) throughout the season had been their go-to 3-point shooter and 12 (Gavin Rider) was their penetrator. We tried to stop 12 from penetrating and 5 from shooting; 11 really showed up. I never anticipated 11 doing what he did. I didn’t see that coming.”

“I told my team we had plenty of time left to get back in the game,” Hembree said. “I said give me the ball and they got me the ball. We just wanted to make it a game.”

T.J. Fairs hit a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left to push the Piedmont lead to three and it stayed that way until the final five seconds.

The Eagles (20-10) called time with 12 seconds left to set up their final play. Most expected it to be a 3-pointer – since they were 10-of-32 from beyond the arc in the game – but Rider drove the lane and put up a layup that fell in just as the buzzer sounded, but was one point short.

“I’m glad they shot 2,” Lewis said.

“It was a ball screen at the top of the key, drive left,” Pisgah coach Woody Beard said. “We had (Wilks) sitting in the corner and Ben in a double-down screen coming up to the top. They’re going to leave the 2 open and deny the 3, and we took the 2.”

Fairs led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Jenkins had 10, while Delo Foster had nine points, 14 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots. One of his blocked shots against Wilks kept Pisgah from tying it with 1:23 left and produced a Fairs layup, and while he didn’t credit for another block there he altered another shot that would’ve made it a one-point game inside 30 seconds.

“He is a difference maker for them,” Beard said of Foster. “We just don’t see that every night. He changes shots as many as he blocks. He just makes us miss them because we just notice him being there.”

Wilks led Pisgah with 18 points playing what the coaches believe is a broken hand. Hembree finished with 17, hitting five of 13 3-point attempts.

The Bulldogs now face a familiar opponent in their bid for the trip to Birmingham. They will play Plainview Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. in the regional finals.

“We have an interesting past with them,” Jenkins said, referencing the five-overtime game the teams played here in 2016.

Piedmont’s Lee Stanley (20) and Delo Foster collapse on Pisgah’s A.J. Cornelian during Saturday’s Northeast Regional game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

CLASS 5A: Simmons saves the day

Talladega 62, Arab 40: Chucky Miller admitted the game was “scary” because the opponent was a lot better than its 12-19 record indicated and was playing its best ball of the year.

So what did the Tigers do? They tightened up the defense and got sophomore Kobe Simmons to take advantage of Arab’s justified focus on their three guards.

Talladega held the Knights to 25 points through three quarters and Simmons had 17 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds in the game.

“We were a little tight there most of the half, but I thought our (man) defensive effort was real good,” Miller said. “Your shot’s not going to be falling a lot of times so you have to play defense. But we finally got some shots to fall and made some plays … we didn’t convert the first half. I’m just happy we survived this game.”

The Tigers led wire-to-wire, but they didn’t shoot well. Playing against what they called the best zone they’d seen all season, they were only 1-of-14 from 3-point range.

Simmons was a guard in the program before ACL surgeries on each knee kept him out of action. When he returned the Tigers were so rich at the position they used his size to help them on the inside.

“Kobe has not really played over about one game since his seventh grade year,” Miller said. “He’s grown into a big guy, but when he left he was a guard. You can see some guard skills, but I need him inside right now. He just looks tall out there.”

Even after two major injuries that might have forced another into retirement, Simmons was determined to get back on the floor.

“I’ve seen people in the NBA just keep on going after ACL surgery multiple time; I ssaid I can do it, too,” Simmons said. “Nothing’s gonna stop me. I just keep on going.”

The Tigers will play (20-10) will play Etowah in the regional final Wednesday at 10:45 a.m.

Piedmont 57, Pisgah 56
PISGAH (20-10) –
Carson Wheeler 2-8 2-2 7, Jared Wilks 7-13 0-0 18, A.J. Cornelison 4-7 0-0 8, Ben Hembree 6-15 0-0 17, Gavin Rider 2-11 0-0 4, Griffin Wilborn 0-1 0-0 0, Luke Wilborn 1-2 0-0 2, Nash Swinford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-58 2-2 56.

PIEDMONT (21-11) – Kaedon Jenkins 4-5 2-2 10, Delo Foster 3-9 2-2 9, Ryley Kirk 2-3 0-0 5, Lee Stanley 3-5 0-0 7, T.J. Fairs 7-13 3-5 17, Carl Myers 3-9 0-2 6, Alex Odam 1-5 0-0 3, Sean Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-49 7-11 57.

Pisgah 16 9 9 22 — 56
Piedmont 19 13 13 12 — 57

3-point goals: Pisgah 10-32 (Wheeler 1-4, Wilks 4-8, Hembree 5-13, Rider 0-5, G. Wilborn 0-1, L. Wilborn 0-1); Piedmont 4-15 (Foster 1-4, Kirk 1-2, Stanley 1-1, Fairs 0-2, Myers 0-2, Odam 1-4). Rebounds: Pisgah 23 (Rider 7); Piedmont 41 (Foster 14). Total fouls: Pisgah 15, Piedmont 7. Officials: Will Rasley, Abdullah Salaam, Randy Putnam.

Talladega 62, Arab 40
TALLADEGA (20-10) –
Fred Dickerson 5-13 1-3 11, Chaztin Tanner 1-11 2-2 4, Ashton Duncan 4-9 3-3 12, J.Q. Wilson 2-3 0-2 4, Kobe Simmons 8-14 1-3 17, Tyrese Scales 2-3 4-5 8, JaQon Chatman 0-0 0-0 0, D’Corian Wilson 1-3 0-0 2, Rontavious Barclay 1-2 0-0 2, Jay Patterson 1-4 0-2 2. Totals 25-62 11-20 62.

ARAB (12-20) – Martin Dyar 5-11 0-0 11, Ryan Law 0-2 0-0 0, Hunter Hall 1-4 0-2 2, Colby King 0-5 2-4 2, Sam Graves 2-7 0-1 5, Jordan Nesmith 1-3 0-0 23, John York 0-2 0-0 0, Logan Parker 0-1 0-0 0, Dawson England 2-3 0-0 5, Drew Thornhill 0-0 0-0 0, Nic Cavendar 1-3 0-0 3, Kent Tyler 1-3 1-1 3, Chase Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Kelley 1-1 4-4 6, Trevor Miller 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 14-47 7-12 40.

Talladega 13 12 16 21 — 62
Arab 9 8 8 15 — 40

3-point goals: Talladega 1-14 (Dickerson 0-1, Tanner 0-4, Duncan 1-5, Simmons 0-1, Barclay 0-1, Patterson 0-1); Arab 5-17 (Dyar 1-4, Graves 1-4, Nesmith 1-2, York 0-2, England 1-2, Cavendar 1-2, Tyler 0-1). Rebounds: Talladega 42 (Simmons 9, J.W. Wilson 6); Arab 36 (King 7, Dyar 6). Total fouls: Talladega 13, Arab 16. Officials: Mark Green, Jason Tidwell, Abdullah Salaam.

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