E.A. Sports Today

Eddie factor

Veteran coach simulates New Hope star guard in practice, helps Anniston find the formula to get back to the Northeast Regional final.

Cover photo: Anniston’s Tykeria Smith catches a pass from Serena Hardy during Anniston’s 44-40 victory over New Hope in Monday’s Class 4A Northeast Regional semifinals. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Eddie Bullock could play, back in his day. Even as a 50-something coach, he’s known to take the floor and practice with Anniston’s girls when he deems it necessary.

He deemed it necessary, as Anniston prepared to play New Hope’s Kaylee Yarbrough in Monday’s Class 4A Northeast Regional semifinals.

Bullock proved to be an effective simulator, as Anniston held New Hope’s all-state guard to five points in a 44-40 victory in Pete Mathews Coliseum.

The Bulldogs (26-4) advanced to Thursdays 9 a.m. final against Cherokee County and a chance to punch their ticket to the Final Four in Birmingham.

Anniston is making its 19th Northeast Regional appearance but for since 2022, when Yarbrough scored 23 points to lead New Hope past the Bulldogs 57-44 in the semifinals.

“I just know we’re not done yet,” Anniston guard A’Kayla Perry said. “I know we have to win one more game to get to state, but I feel like we’re going to do it.”

Foul troubles and a shoulder injury helped Anniston’s cause against Yarbrough. She picked up her third foul while colliding with Anniston’s Serena Hardy while going for a loose ball in the second quarter.

Yarbrough left the action, dragging her left arm as she winced in pain.

“It shocked me, more than anything,” Yarbrough said. “She, like, bent it backward, so an instant pain shot up my neck and collarbone.

“As soon as that happened, my brain was like, ‘I can’t dribble. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do,’ but I tried to go out there and give it my all.”

Yarbrough played through the second half but didn’t score.

“We knew she was hurting,” New Hope coach Matt Nelson said. “That tells you what kind of player she is to gut it up, suck it up and keep going.”

As for the rest, Anniston got 14 points and eight rebounds from Tykeria Smith and 12 points and 12 boards from Perry.

That and a well-practiced strategy, aided directly by Bullock, proved to be all they needed as they overcame New Hope point guard Jada Bates’ 18-point showing.

Bullock made Yarbrough the focal point of Anniston’s preparations, and Bullock, a former shooting guard, played Yarbrough in practice.

“Believe it or not, that (stopping Yarbrough) is a task,” Bullock said. “I actually got out and worked with them and tried to show them.

“I told them, ‘As old as I am, if I can show you all how to do it, as great of shape as you’re in, you should be able to do it.”

What’s it like when Bullock becomes a practice player?

“It helps us a lot, for sure,” Smith said. “Coach, he played like he was 30 (Yarbrough’s jersey number). He gave us the idea of how to play. She was the main one we had to find all the time.” 

Anniston and New Hope (14-11) stood tied 27-27 at halftime, but the Bulldogs held New Hope to 13 second-half points … five four in the third quarter.

Bates kept New Hope close with dribble drives, but Smith’s free throws made it a two-possession game with 10 seconds left.

“Just glad we got a victory,” Bullock said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been back up here, and we kind of struggled when these girls were young. They’ve been pretty resilient. Just glad to get  quality win against a quality opponent.”

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