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Slipping Away: Cougars lose 8-point lead, state title eludes defending champs

BIRMINGHAM — They had ”em right where they wanted them.

Well, not exactly. The Livingston High School Cougars probably shouldn’t have been in this position in the first place. But they were. They were tied 50-50 with Central-Coosa with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

To be precise, there were 14 seconds left in the game. A season of downs — really far downs, considering the Cougars lost their first five games of the season — was clearly behind Livingston. And with the score tied and the clock winding down in Birmingham, the ball was in the right person’s hands.

Cory Speights, leading the Cougars with 13 points at the time, had the Class 4A state title in his hands. Then, from out of no where, that state title went crashing to the floor — literally.

Poised to make a cut toward the basket, Speights slipped to the floor of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center and the ball escaped with the trophy.

Coosa’s Fernando Edwards picked up the bumbling rock, broke toward his basket, and was stopped only by a grab from Speights, desperately trying to stop the easy basket.

The officials called the foul on Speights, but Edwards, who finished with a game-high 21 points, coolly knocked down the two free throws to knock Livingston from the Class 4A boys throne.

Then again, Livingston had one more chance to steal a game they let slip away earlier in the fourth quarter.

After the Edwards’ free-throws, Livingston threw a full-court pas, but that final shot barreled off the rim and formally gave Coosa the state title.

But rewind back to the beginning of the fourth quarter. Livingston High could almost feel the nylon strings coming off the goal. They led Coosa by nine and were content to milk the clock for every second Coosa would allow.

Then, with 3:20 left in the game, Livingston big man Roland Fitch picked up his fourth foul of the game with his team leading 50-42.

Concerned about having Fitch in the game for the final minute, head coach Kenneth Threadgill pulled his center. He also pulled the plug on a Coosa scoring run. Meanwhile, a sheet of taut plastic apparently covered the Livingston basket.

Coosa immediately scored after Fitch went to the bench, cutting the lead to six, 50-44. On the next possession, they drained a 3-pointer to pull within three. Then Edwards finished off the game at the line, hitting two free throws to cut the Livingston lead to just one, 50-49.

Livingston’s Derrick Harris was fouled, but missed his free throws, and after a Coosa time out, Harris quickly fouled Coosa’s Jarvis Belyeu, who made one of two attempts, knotting the game at 50-50.

That’s when Speights slipped and Livingston’s chance at a repeat title hit the floor.

Along with Speights’ 13 points, Peter Miller added 11, Fitch finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and Harris chipped in nine points.

Edwards had two assists and three steals (one very critical steal with 14 seconds left) along with his 21 points. Kelvin Kelly had 14 points and seven rebounds.