E.A. Sports Today

Knop’s big finish

Cleaning out a notebook: Alexandria’s Knop unchanged as he looks to cap stellar career at state wrestling championship, Oxford seeking third straight title; Glencoe girls getting ESPN spot and other hoops happenings

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today
Christian Knop is on the verge of making wrestling history in the state of Alabama, but even on the cusp of his greatest triumph his routine for the final weekend of his high school career, the most important weekend of his high school career, will not deviate from the norm.

The Alexandria senior 195 leads a group of nearly 60 area wrestlers in the state championships that start Thursday in Huntsville.
The anticipation is he will walk off the mat at the VonBraun Center late Saturday afternoon with an unprecedented fourth straight undefeated championship season. Don’t expect him to honor the long-standing wrestling tradition of leaving his shoes by the side of the mat and walking away after his last match – he has a pretty expensive pair – but you should expect some sort of emotional release.
After his first two state titles he joyfully leaped into the arms of an assistant coach. Lately, he’s been coming off the mat ceremoniously snapping a branch over his knee representing another record broken.
If he runs the table, as expected, Knop will close out his career with 321 victories – one of only five wrestlers currently listed by the state with 300 or more – and a state-record 235 in a row. The 71-0 record he’ll leave with will be the seventh best undefeated season in state history. He’s also had seasons of 58-0, 50-0 and 56-0 during this run.
His dominance has been such he hasn’t been taken down since the ninth grade. Almost all of his pins this year have been in the first period.
With all that’s at stake one might think the athlete would sequester himself in some dark room to be alone with his focus, coming out like some Punxsutawney Phil only for his match and then retreating until the next call.
He’ll be focused, of course, but his routine throughout the weekend won’t change from the run-up to any other match this year, save for limiting interviews until after his final match.
“It’s the same as it’s been all year, not any more, not any less; he’s just trying to have fun,” his father Curtis said Wednesday before the Valley Cubs left for the trip. “He’s got a balanced focus, nothing’s changed. He’s just ready to get the job done and get it over with. That’s how he goes about it.
“This is his livelihood, what got him to college. It’s like a job to him. Punches in and punches out. If it takes overtime to get the job done, he does it.”
Knop is one of 10 sectional champions from Calhoun, Cleburne and Talladega counties in the Class 1A-5A and 6A fields and one of three from Alexandria. Knop, Alexandria teammate Jaden New, Weaver’s Caleb Allison and Oxford’s 6A North Section runner-up Jakob Chisolm are returning state champions.
Oxford will be looking for its third straight 6A state championship and first under coach Kyle Routon in what is expected to be one of the lowest scoring and tightest races in history. The Yellow Jackets qualified 10 wrestlers, led by section champions Landon Burrage and Reed Hill, and several of their section runner-ups are expected to use their shortfalls last week as motivation.
Local qualifiers by team: Oxford 10, Ranburne 10, Alexandria 7, Cleburne County 6, Piedmont 6, Weaver 5, Lincoln 4, ASB 2, Pleasant Valley 2, White Plains 2, Ohatchee 1, Saks 1, Talladega 1, Wellborn 1.
TV TIME: The Glencoe girls basketball team is in line for some national exposure later this month. ESPN has received permission to air the footage of the Lady Jackets’ “Dear Lord Jesus” basket that won their Class 3A subregional game against Locust Fork Monday night.
The clip is expected to air Feb. 28 on the network’s morning and 5 p.m. shows. “It’s cool that it’s just being considered,” Glencoe coach Daniel Cook said.
The Lady Jackets were trailing 55-53 with 3.6 seconds left and no timeouts. Anna Grace Goodwin took a pass from Anna Beth Giles and launched a 3-pointer that beat 
the horn and hit nothing but net.
Cook said they must have run the play 50 times in practice and it never worked before.
The answered prayer sent them into the Northeast Regional where they will play Weaver at Jacksonville State Monday at 3 p.m.

HOOPS HAPPENINGS: The Class 1A Northeast Regional girls semifinal between No. 2 Spring Garden (24-7) and No. 8 R.A. Hubbard (20-8) is a game that opens an old would. Two years ago the teams hooked up in an epic title game won by the Lady Chiefs with a controversial finish that denied Spring Garden a then sixth state girls title.
With the clock expired game officials sent Lady Chiefs eighth-grader Alexandria Orr to the free throw line. Orr missed her first attempt but converted on the second giving the Hubbard the crown. Many of the original cast members from the 2017 state finals production will be center stage, including 2018 all-staters A’Nautica Bibbs and Kee-Undria Bolden from Hubbard and the Garden’s Payton McGinnis. Alexandria Orr, now a sophomore, will also be there.  
Don’t miss the top scoring player in the entire nation. Lindsay Lane’s Tommy Murr continues his assault on the AHSAA record book. Murr’s 4,158 points are third on the AHSAA all-time scoring list behind only R.C. Hatch’s Frankie Sullivan (4,224 from 2003-08) and Parkway Christian’s Jeremy Monceaux (4,555 from 1998-02). According to MaxPreps, the 6-foot-1 junior guard has the highest scoring average in the nation (44.8 ppg). The Lions open against Spring Garden on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the 1A regional semifinal.

Murr has had 11 games of 50 or more points, topped by a 61-pointer against Sheffield on Dec. 21 (an 84-77 win). Most recently he went for 55 and 56 in consecutive wins over Oakwood (71-64) and Whitesburg Christian (79-69) Feb. 7 and 9.

His lowest game output came was against R.A. Hubbard on Dec. 11.  He had 25.

R.A. Hubbard’s Alexandria Orr (L) collides with Spring Garden’s A.J. Broome on the play that sent Orr to the foul line with less than one second left to win the 2017 Class 1A state championship game. (EA Sports Today file photos by Greg Warren)
The play and the game was the motivating force behind the Lady Panthers’ run to the 2018 crown.

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