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Linden loses Area 5 coin flip

They say sports can be a matter of inches, or a roll of the dice, or a flip of the coin. And in some cases, literally.

That was the case for the Linden boys’ basketball team last Friday as the team waited for a coin flip to determine whether they would have the right to host the 1A Area 2 tournament. Both the Patriots and the Coffeeville Panthers finished area play with 7-1 records, after each team defeated the other at home and fell on the road.

With both teams posting perfect 6-0 records against the other three teams in the area (Sweet Water, Marengo, and A.L. Johnson) and no way to break the tie, the area tournament’s top seed and the critical home-court advantage went to the coin. Coffeeville won the flip, and beginning Tuesday, Feb. 7 will host the Area 5 tourney.

“We’ll just have to work extra hard,” said Linden head coach Eddie Armstead. “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes.”

As the second seed, the Patriots will open the tournament a week from Thursday in the area semifinals against third seed Sweet Water, who finished area play at 4-4. The winner of the Linden-Sweet Water match-up will face the winner of the game between Coffeeville and either A.L. Johnson and Marengo, the fourth and fifth seeds who will face off Tuesday.

In some ways, the semifinals are more important than the area title game: the semifinal losers see their season end while both championship-game participants advance to the sub-regional round. But the Area 2 runner-up must go on the road for sub-regionals to face the Area 8 champion, while–in addition to the bragging rights–the champs stay home to host the Area 8 runner-up. Last season, both area champs used the home-court advantage to advance to the regionals in Mobile.

So if Linden is to extend their streak of regional appearances-they have advanced to the regional round every year this decade–defeating Sweet Water is essential, but beating Carrolton is only slightly less so. Fortunately for Patriot fans, Armstead says Linden won’t be intimidated by having lost in the Panthers’ gym once already.

“We’re just going to go out and play. That’s the bottom line,” he says. “It’s one game at a time.”

If there’s more good news for Linden supporters, it’s that losing the coin flip to Coffeeville won’t be the first obstacle the team has overcome this season. Coach Willie J Scott left the Patriot bench early in the season and had his resignation formally accepted by the Linden City School Board Monday night. But Armstead, an assistant of Scott’s who took over the reins and has guided Linden to a 14-4 overall record, says that the transition has been smooth.

“Coach Scott’s a good guy and a coach. He’s been working with me, giving me a lot of advice about how to handle certain situations, so it’s not like he’s completely out of the picture,” Armstead says. “We just have to step up and do the job that’s presented.”

That job will fall to both the Patriot’s starting five–guards Darnell Richardson, Jared Jackson, and Gary Williams, and forwards Wesley Hodges and Sean Richardson–and several subs that Armstead plans on getting plenty of time.

“We have a pretty deep bench,” he says. “Everybody’s going to have to step up.”

Linden will prepare for their trip to Coffeeville with games against country rival John Essex Tuesday night and on the road against 2A Keith Feb. 3.

“When it comes to Linden,” Armstead says, “everybody’s looking to get a win over us.”