E.A. Sports Today

Thunder silenced in final

Decatur Heritage dominates JCA in every area, ends Thunder’s season in Northeast Regional title game

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Tommy Miller sat down at the post-game press conference with Tanner Wilson and Drake Shew by his side and explained the day as simply as it could be stated.

His Jacksonville Christian basketball team, a team not many expected to even be here, had just fallen to Decatur Heritage in the Class 1A Northeast Regional finals 58-33 and there was really only one way to explain it.

“We got beat. Every area of the game, we got beat,” Miller said. “We got beat by a better team. They played hard, they were well coached, they played with a lot of class. It was just the best team won the basketball game.”

There wasn’t a lot that went right for the Thunder (19-8) Wednesday at Jacksonville State. They fell behind 10-0 right out of the gate and 22-3 in the first quarter and were chasing the rest of the game.

The Eagles (20-7) got twice as many shots as the Thunder, and when they weren’t shooting, they were stealing and rebounding – and shooting again. They took 70 shots to JCA’s 37. They outrebounded JCA 49-32. Take away their 23 offensive rebounds, they still had 13 more shots than the Thunder.

The Eagles scored 16 points on second chances, scored 18 points off turnovers and had more points in the paint (34) than the Thunder had in the game (33). There were at least five times when they had at least three shots at the basket at a time. Twice they had a five-shot exchange.

They will play the winner of Thursday’s Southwest Regional finals between Autaugaville or Keith Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in Birmingham’s Bill Harris Arena.

“We played pretty well today,” Eagles coach Jason Marshall said. “We have to clean up and do some things better this next game, but I was really proud of the guys on how we performed tonight.

“We knew Jacksonville had won some good games here as of late. Coming in we felt like if we pressured them that would really cause them a lot of problems, so I think that’s one of the factors we got so many more shots up. They turned it over several times to us.”

Decatur Heritage’s Clayton Smith led all scorers with 20 points. Brayden Kyle had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sean Zerkle had eight points and 13 boards.

The Thunder, who won the Northeast Regional last year on a 35-foot buzzer beater by Eli Fair, didn’t have a scorer in double figures. Wilson, their hottest scorer the last two games, and Landon Wills had seven points apiece.

They were a team that rode the 3-pointer this year, hitting 10 or more in several games, but had were only 1-of-12 in the first half and 4-of-23 in the game. They had only three field goals overall in the first half.

“We had a bad day today and the emotion we’re feeling right now is disappointment,” Miller said. “You have to learn how to deal with disappointment, that’s all part of athletics. Last year we hit that last second shot, the emotions were extremely high and they were euphoric and this year euphoric and this year it’s just right the opposite.

“But we’re going to have to step back in a day or two, though, and look at what we have accomplished this year because it has been an extremely good year.”

The most experienced players on this year’s team practiced with and played behind the group that took the Thunder to the Final Four last year, but they were out to prove everyone wrong who doubted they could get back here.

They had the Thunder on the cusp of a 20-win season and one game away from a return trip to Birmingham. Miller said they showed “a lot of courage” to get as far as they have.

“This is not what you’re supposed to say – you’re supposed to say you expected to be here – but that’d be a lie,” Miller said. “When we started this year we had no idea nor did anybody else think we would be here. We were trying to win a game; I think we were 19-8. These guys came along all year long. The last two ballgames we played we played really exceptional games to get here and tonight we just couldn’t throw one in the ocean.

“I’d have been afraid to go to the beach because they’d have tried to dive in and they’d hit the sand, and that’s the way it was tonight. But I’m still real proud of the way they have played all year long and the class that we played with tonight when things were not going right.”

Boys Championship Game
Decatur Heritage 58, Jacksonville Christian 33
Tanner Wilson 2-11 2-6 7, Ethan Burrage 1-5 2-2 5, Tavian Alexander 0-2 2-2 2, Landon Wills 2-11 2-5 7, Drake Shew 1-2 0-0 2, Ethan Fair 0-1 1-2 1, Tyler Doggrell 1-3 0-0 3, Mason Johnson 0-0 1-2 1, Braxton Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Cam Moses 0-0 0-0 0, Brodie Clay 2-2 1-2 5. Totals 9-37 11-21 33.
DECATUR HERITAGE (20-7) – Bo Solley 2-5 0-0 5, Bryant Pitts 2-5 0-0 6, Clayton Smith 8-16 1-2 20, Sean Zerkle 4-7 0-0 8, Brayden Kyle 5-14 3-4 13, Hayden Page 0-0 0-0 0, Ian Eze 0-1 0-0 0, Ty Tyson 0-4 0-0 0, Sam Waters 1-3 0-0 2, Alex Malone 1-5 0-0 2, Mason Baxley 0-1 0-0 0, Lemzel Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Paxton Tarver 0-2 0-0 0, Brady Wilson 1-1 0-0 2, Hunter Ward 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-70 4-6 58.
Jacksonville Christian       6    9    9  9  –  33
Decatur Heritage                22 17 17  2  –  58
3-point goals: JC 4-23 (Wilson 1-6, Burrage 1-5, Alexander 0-2, Wills 1-8, Doggrell 1-2); Decatur Heritage 6-15 (Solley 1-2, Pitts 2-3, Smith 3-5, Kyle 0-1, Malone 0-1, Tarver 0-1, Ward 0-2). Rebounds: JCA 32 (Shew 7, Alexander 5); Decatur Heritage 49 (Zerkle 13, Kyle 11). Total fouls: JCA 10, Decatur Heritage 18. Officials: Tucker, Putnam, Scyphers. 

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