E.A. Sports Today

‘Tough’ ending

A season of work under a first-year coach got Southside girls farther than ever, but Arab stays out of reach in Northeast Regional final

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Justin Bowen’s fire never lets him show it, but he’s a tired guy. 

The feistiness of the first varsity team to ever call Bowen head coach showed in Wednesday’s Class 5A Northeast Regional girls’ final, but it betrayed how tired his Southside team is.

Arab prevailed 48-44 in Pete Mathews Coliseum, so rest came sooner than the Panthers wanted.

Then again, rest came well earned for a five-win team this time a year ago that became a 23-8 team. Southside reached the regional for the third time in program history and the regional final for the first time.

Rest assured, Bowen’s junior-heavy team has every prospect of returning.

“Most of our key players who either come off the bench or start will come back next year, and I can’t wait to see (it),” Bowen said “We had this huge surge from last year to this year, and now we get to go in the summer already with these lessons learned and build more onto that.”

Southside’s student section for the Panthers’ first-ever appearance in the Northeast Regional girls’ final Wednesday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Yes, Bowen talked work after the season ended Wednesday. He talked next steps after Southside rallied time and again Arab surged ahead time and again.

The game ended with Layla Davis banking home a 3-pointer off of an inbounds play that started at 1.6 seconds. No chance of changing the outcome, but there’s never a time to stop working toward a better one.

That’s what Bowen brought to his first head-coaching assignment. 

The school’s defensive coordinator in football cut his teeth as an assistant in football and baseball with stays at Hazel Green and Oxford. Will Wagnon, Keith Etheredge, Wes Brooks and Frankie Perez and Bowen’s current boss in football, Miles Holcomb, raised him well.

“Before the season started, I think there were 12 of 13 different people that I have worked with or worked under that won a state championship,” Bowen said.

That doesn’t cover lessons learned as an Alexandria athlete.

When the call came to coach girls’ basketball, Bowen came ready for the call.

“It really wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be, when I first took the job,” he said. “I attribute all of that to the great coaches I’ve been under who taught me how to do this. I’ve been under some amazing head coaches.”

Bowen didn’t come to his first head-coaching assignment just for the stipend. He came ready to return investment in time, in spades.

He and his wife just got moved into the new house they bought. They’re four weeks out from having a baby.

He’s still there to open the gym at 5 a.m.

‘There’s times when I’m really, really, really tired, because when they go home, I’m still washing clothes or other stuff,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I think I’m going to call so-and-so to go do the workout in the morning, because I’m really tired. I need rest.

“Then I’m like, ‘I can’t ask those girls to do something I’m not doing.’ I just get up and go.”

Keep in mind, Bowen inherited a tired team. A five-win season in Class 6A in 2021-22 left the Panthers demoralized.

“It sucks,” junior guard Madison Shaw said. “Coming off last year, towards the end of the season, we would all dread coming to practice because of how, just, miserable it was. 

“We already knew the outcome of when we played, and it’s just like, there’s no point in all of this work, being in the gym seven days a week.”

Bowen came in made a point.

“What I can say about this year is, it’s an every-day thing, … ” Davis said. “We work every day, like Coach Bowen said. It’s an every-day process.”

Work got Southside farther than it had ever been. The run included a 36-33 upset of defending state champion Guntersville in the regional semifinals.

That game took investment.

Then came the final against Arab, a team that split with Southside this season. The Panthers won their last meeting by 12 points.

Fatigue showed in feistiness. Jovi Marble drew a technical foul after an emphatic, floor-rolling battle with Bennett Elrod for a loose ball in the second quarter.

Despite center Grace Anne Rose’s battles with foul troubles, feistiness got Southside back within single digits all three times Arab went up by double digits.

“It’s tough when you’ve got a bunch of girls, athletes in general, who’ve never really been in this situation before to constantly perform every single game, and play your best, and not make those mistakes,” Bowen said. “We should be in this spot, but it’s tough to constantly ask them to, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play your best … or the season’s over with.’”

SOUTHSIDE (23-8) – Jovi Marble 0-4 3-6 3, Sarakate Yancey 3-6 2-3 10, Mallory Brooks 0-3 0-0 0, Grace Anne Rose 1-3 0-0 2, Madison Shaw 5-8 4-4 16, Lexi Darnell 1-4 0-2 2, Laylah Davis 5-8 0-1 11. Totals 15-36 9-16 44.
ARAB (21-12) – Bennett Elrod 0-3 0-0 0, Laney Kelley 2-6 2-3 7, Lily Livingston 7-14 1-2 18, Sydney Ferguson 2-4 2-2 8, Bryleigh Bodine 2-5 1-3 5, Maggie Chastain 3-6 2-2 10, Lexi Mann 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 16-39 8-13 48.
Southside       6        9        12        17 –     44
Arab 11        13        11     13 –     48
3-point goals: Southside 5-16 (Mable 0-1, Yancey 2-4, Brooks 0-3, Rose 0-1, Shaw 2-5, Davis 1-2); Arab 8-20 (Elrod 0-3, Kelley 1-2, Livingston 3-7, Ferguson 2-3, Bodine 0-1, Chastain 2-4). Total fouls: Southside 17, Arab 16. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: Marble. Officials: Scyhers, Satterfield, Rutherford.
All-tournament team: (Guntersville) Tazi Harris; (Southside) Davis, Shaw; (Arab) Chastain, Ferguson, Livingston (MVP).

The Class 5A girls Northeast Regional all-tournament team (from left): Southside’s Laylah Davis and Madison Shaw; Arab’s Maggie Chastain and Lily Livingston; Guntersville’s Tazi Harris; and Arab’s Sydney Ferguson. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Cover photo: Southside’s team and coaches pose with their Northeast Regional runner-up plaque Wednesday in Jacksonville’s Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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