E.A. Sports Today

One win away

Jacksonville gets out to blazing start, makes quick work of Hale County in state semifinals to earn much anticipated matchup with Westminster Christian

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — Jacksonville will get its much-anticipated matchup with Westminster Christian, and a Golden Eagle program one year removed from its first state title stands one victory away from back-to-back titles.

Jacksonville scored the first 18 points of its Class 4A state semifinal game with Hale County on Tuesday and rolled to an 82-46 rout in Legacy Arena.

The defending state champion Golden Eagles (28-6), ranked second in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll of the season, will play top-ranked Westminster Christian (29-3) in Friday’s 5:45 p.m. final.

Westminster Christian eliminated Montgomery Catholic 61-28 earlier Tuesday.

The combined 69-point margin of Tuesday’s Class 4A semifinals was the second largest in boys’ semifinal margin in Alabama High School Athletic Association history. R.C. Hatch beat Priceville 85-39, and Lanett beat Pickens County 73-44 for a combined 75-point margin in 2006.

It only goes to illustrate why Jacksonville-Westminster Christian is 2023’s most widely anticipated 4A matchup.

Jacksonville’s Cam Johnson dunks during the Golden Eagles’ Class 4A state semifinal victory over Hale County on Tuesday in Birminghan’s Legacy Arena. (Photo by Greg Warren)

Jacksonville and Westminster Christian met in the 2022 Northeast Regional semifinals, with the Golden Eagles leading 17-0 after the first quarter en route to a 50-41 victory. Reclassification and realignment moved Westminster Christian to the Northwest Regional this year, setting up the possibility of state-final showdown.

“They were in the same Christmas tournament (Huntsville City Classic) as us,” Jacksonville coach Tres Buzan said. “We saw them up there, and they saw us. 

“We know Friday is going to be a battle, but we look forward to battles. We embrace it. We’re going to go out there and give it our best shot, I promise you that.”

Like Jacksonville did with Westminster Christian last year, the Golden Eagles got off to a blazing start Monday. 

It was the kind of explosiveness Jacksonville has shown at times this season. The Golden Eagles scored 40 points in the third quarter of their Area 10 semifinal with Cleburne County.

“The 18-0 run was amazing,” said senior guard John Broom, who amassed a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We came out with great intensity, great energy and great defense. 

“We were hitting shots. We were getting in the holes and playing the gaps.”

Their 18-0 barrage to open the game prompted Hale County coach to call timeouts at 5:10, with a 12-0 score, and 3:44, with an 18-0 bulge.

John Broom drives for two of his 18 points against Hale County on Tuesday in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. (Photo by Greg Warren)

“When you’re young like we are … the most thing you need is experience,” Hale coach coach Antwan Butler said. “It’s a bigger stage. They haven’t been here before, so they got bright eyes.

“You come out flat. You don’t play as hard as you need to because you’re, not scared, but big moment and big stage, and they’re up 18-0. 

“They’re too good of a team to get down 18-0.”

Jacksonville went on to lead 24-7 after the first quarter and held Hale County (17-13) to three second-quarter points.

The Golden Eagles led the Central Region champs 41-10 at halftime.

Jacksonville shot 55.9 percent from the field and hit 12 of 25 3-pointers for the game. Broom led the way, going 4-for-6 behind the arc. Devin Barksdale was 3-for-5.

Six different Jacksonville players hit at least one 3-pointer, making good on two postseason talks the team heard from Chris Weaver, a former Samford standout and father to Jacksonville junior-high player Quinn Weaver.

“He was talking about the fundamentals of shooting and how to stay locked in and have confidence, and that helped us out,” said Barksdale, who scored 15 points with five assists. 

Jacksonville also got 14 points from Caden Johnson and nine from Cam Johnson, and center Ethan Duke took three charging fouls to supplement his six rebounds and three assists.

Omarr Lewis led Hale County with 13 points, but the Wildcats shot 15-for-49 from the field. They were 4-for-23 (17.4 percent) in the first half.

For Hale County, the victory was getting to Birmingham, where the Wildcats won the 4A state title in 2017.

“We’re from a small town, small community, gym under renovations, so we had to play our games at the middle school, practice at the middle school, practice late hours,” Butler said. “They team has went through a lot of adversity.

“A lot of stuff thrown at them, so I’m proud of the boys. Nobody quit. We stuck with it, and I think we maxed it out.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Jacksonville has the chance to stay on the 4A mountaintop.

“It feels great to get (the chance) to go back to back,” Caden Johnson said. “We prepared ourselves for this, watched a lot of film and practiced hard every day, so we were ready for this.

“We know who we’ve got next, so we’ve just got to keep our eye on the next game, and we’ve just got to keep working hard.”

JACKSONVILLE (28-6) – Cam Johnson 4-12 0-1 9, Caden Johnson 6-8 1-2 14, Devin Barksdale 6-10 0-0 15, John Broom 6-10 2-3 18, Ethan Duke 1-1 0-0 2, Jaquan Ervin 1-3 0-0 2, Imoree Young 1-1 0-0 2, Monte Sinclair 2-5 0-2 6, Dee Prothro 3-5 0-0 6, Kydric Fisher 3-4 1-1 8. Totals 33-59 4-9 82.
HALE COUNTY (17-13) – A.J. Edwards 0-6 3-6 3, Gage Mayfield 3-6 0-1 7, Aundarius Gee 1-11 2-2 4, Solomon Summerville 2-4 0-0 4, T.J. Hatch 2-8 1-2 6, Tristan Perry 1-2 0-0 3, Logan Averette 1-2 0-0 2, Broderick Hill 2-4 0-0 4, Omarr Lewis 3-6 5-7 13. Totals 15-49 11-18 46.
Jacksonville       24        17        20        21 –     82
Hale County         7        3           14          22 –     46
3-point goals: Jacksonville 12-25 (Cam Johnson 1-7, Caden Johnson 1-1, Barksdale 3-5, Broom 4-6, Sinclair 2-4, Fisher 1-2); Hale County 5-25 (Edwards 0-4, Mayfield 1-2, Gee 0-6, Summerville 0-2, Hatch 1-6, Perry 1-1, Averette 0-1, Lewis 2-3). Total fouls: Jacksonville 13, Hale County 11. Fouled out: Mayfield. Technical fouls: none.

Jacksonville’s Devin Barksdale drives for two of his 15 points against Hale County on Tuesday in Birmingham. (Photo by Greg Warren)

Cover photo: Defending Class 4A state champion Jacksonville lines up for introductions before playing Hale County in Tuesday’s state semifinals in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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