Akron fans are making noise in Mobile

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Greetings from the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center, where I’ve been lucky enough to watch the 2A boys and girls semifinals this morning and afternoon, featuring Uniontown’s own second-ranked R.C. Hatch hoops teams. Here’s some observations and a sneak preview of Friday’s 2A Regional title games:

*No disrespect meant to Linden or the other 1A teams competing in the Southwest Regionals, but there’s quite a gulf between the level of play of the top boys’ teams in the 2A semis and the 1A semis here in Mobile. Friday’s 2A title tilt between Altamont and R.C. Hatch is going to be played at a level not all that different – and possibly, even higher – than the 4A boys championship game. An exaggeration? Nah; Hatch defeated Greene County, the likely 4A boys’ favorite, already this season, and Altamont isn’t far behind Hatch, if at all.

*Speaking of that game, it’s going to be a doozy. Hatch is playing excellent basketball at the moment, having blown out their last two opponents by more than 70 points combined. They shot better than 53 percent from the floor against Red Level, a solid figure for any high school team at this level, regardless of the opponent.

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But they’ll have to play even better to beat the top-ranked Knights. Altamont has a pair guards in Larry Williams and Louis Dale than can play with just about any other backcourt in the state. The Bobcats will have to play top-notch perimeter defense and make sure neither one gets hot, lest Altamont go on the kind of 19-2 run that buried Leroy in the second half of the Knights’ Regional semifinal.

Unlike the Bears, however, Hatch has a guard that’s every bit as good as Dale and Williams in Frankie Sullivan, who showed off an impressive passing ability Tuesday I’m not sure I’d seen before. More importantly, for all their backcourt play Altamont is undersized up front (their starting center is 6-2) and not especially quick. If Hatch can get the ball inside consistently to Calvin Pope (6-4), Willie Coleman (6-5), and quietly outstanding small forward Phillip Johnson (6-3), Altamont won’t have any easy answers.

All of which makes Bobcat point guard Lorenzo Jones the key figure in the game. If the senior (who lost his starting spot to Eric Sullivan earlier in the season only to reclaim it) can help Sullivan get the post men their touches while playing solid defense on whichever of Williams and Dale Sullivan doesn’t guard, Hatch will win. If Jones can’t, Altamont’s outside shooting may be too much for even the Bobcats.

One more note: this game may, in fact, decide the 2A state championship all by itself. The teams are ranked 1-2 by the ASWA and whichever wins will travel to Birmingham as the decided favorite to bring home a championship.

*As for the Hatch girls, they’re going to have their hands full with Calera’s Shanavia Dowdell, a 6-2 center who’s athletic enough to get up and down the floor and make shots. Dowdell scored 22 points and pulled down 10 boards in the Lady Eagles harder-than-it-should-have-been 52-30 win over overmatched Flomaton.

But aside from Dowdell, Calera doesn’t have anything Hatch doesn’t have, and between Vinecia Dudley, LaToria Paige, and Ahjah Mitchell the Lady Bobcats have enough to outdo Dowdell and more. But Hatch will need somebody besides the above three to make a scoring contribution (no Lady Bobcat besides Dudley, Paige, or Mitchell scored against Washington County) and will be in deep trouble if they make their usual slow start TOO slow against a team as solid as Calera.

*Trivia time: Which school brought more of a fan presence to the Mitchell Center to support their girls’ basketball team: Akron, a 1A school in remote Hale County hours away from Mobile whose team played at 10 a.m., or Murphy, a 6A school less than ten minutes away whose team tipped off at 3:30 p.m.? The answer, unbelievably, is Akron. Trust me-I’m typing this from press row as the Murphy girls stomp Vigor and I haven’t heard one discernible Murphy fan yet. I know maybe girls’ basketball isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the people at Murphy should be ashamed – and the Akron people proud – of this kind of support.