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Double dip: R.C. Hatch boys, girls on their way to B’ham after big wins

Like last season’s playoff meeting between R.C. Hatch and Altamont, the Bobcats’ Frankie Sullivan landed in foul trouble in Friday night’s Regional final. Like last season, the Knights whittled a Hatch lead away in the second half as Sullivan sat.

But unlike last season, the Bobcats had Calvin Pope on the floor. And thanks to another big game from the junior center, unlike last season Hatch pulled away for a closer-than-the-score 48-36 victory over the top-ranked Knights for their third Final Four berth in four years.

Pope finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bobcats in both categories. He also made the game’s biggest play, corralling a defensive rebound and firing a full-court pass to Phillip Johnson for the layup that sparked Hatch’s 8-0 game-closing run and sent the Bobcats to Birmingham.

“We’re the Fantastic Five,” Sullivan, grinning, called the Hatch starters after the game, “and he’s the Incredible Hulk.”

Pope missed last season’s sub-regional loss to Altamont with a head injury, making Friday’s win all the sweeter.

“It feels great,” Pope said after the game. “That was like a championship game. After I was out last season, it feels like I’ve fulfilled my part. To be out there on the court with Frankie and the rest of the guys and win a game this important, it feels great.”

Neither the Bobcats nor their fans likely felt very good at the 1:55 mark of the third quarter, when Sullivan, Hatch’s leading scorer, picked up his fourth foul. Altamont’s Amari Brown sank both resulting free throws to narrow what had been a seven-point lead earlier in the period to a point, 28-27.

Five straight points from sub Antwain Starks and Phillips Johnson bumped the lead back to 33-27 and Hatch led by four at the end of the quarter, but as they had all night Altamont refused to go away. A Gabriel Harris three-pointer broug hthe Knights within one again at 35-34 with 5:16 to play.

But Sullivan returned to the floor to find Johnson for an easy basket with 4:17 to play, and Pope rebounded his own miss to score a minute later and push the lead back to 39-34. A Christian Given jumper with 2:05 left, however, brought the lead back to 40-36 and Pope’s miss of a wide-open layup gave the Knights the chance to make the contest a one-possession game once more.

But Larry Williams’ miss was followed by Pope’s outlet pass to Johnson, and Hatch would not look back. Pope scored six straight points as Altamont misfired down the stretch, pushing the final margin to 12 and earning himself All-Tournament team honors.

“We beat a great team tonight,” said Hatch head coach Homer Davis. “We needed our big players to make big plays, and they did. We haven’t had a lot of tight games, but we pulled the game through in the fourth … It was closer than the score. It could have gone either way.”

Thanks in large part to Pope’s efforts, Hatch out-rebounded the smaller Knights 51-31. Davis said that that edge, which played a key role in holding the Knights to a well-below-their-average 36 points, was key to the Bobcats’ win.

“It made a big difference,” he said. “When they missed, they didn’t get a second shot.”

Following Pope’s 15 points for Hatch were Sullivan with 9, Johnson with 8, Willie Coleman and Lorenzo Jones with 6 each, Starks with 3, and Eric Sullivan with 1. Frankie Sullivan was named Tournament MVP.

R.C. Hatch girls 52, Calera 49

The R.C. Hatch Lady Bobcat blueprint, it seems, is to fall behind early, surge to a second half lead, and then turn the game over to senior point guard Vinecia Dudley. Friday night against Calera, Hatch followed that blueprint all the way to Birmingham.

Dudley scored six of her team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Lady Bobcats preserve an eight-point lead and earning herself the 2A Southwest Regionals Tournament MVP honors.

“We were able to get a lead and go to the spread, and we put the ball in Vinecia’s hands,” said Hatch head coach Walter F. Abrahams.

Dudley’s biggest play of the game, however, occurred at the close of the first half. After falling behind 12-1 in the first quarter, Hatch had stormed back to a take a 23-21 lead on a LaToria Paige basket with 1:33 to play in the second quarter. Calera responded with four quick points, however, reclaiming a one-point lead with 15 seconds to play. Dudley took the ball the length of the court, drove the lane, and kicked out to a wide open Sheleta Banks. Banks buried the three-point shot at the buzzer for a 27-25 halftime lead.

“We have five kids on the floor we trust. All of the mare capable of shooting,” Abrahams said. “If they’re open, Vinecia’s going to kick it to them … That (shot) gave us momentum going into the third quarter.”

Although the two teams exchanged the lead several times in the third period, the momentum eventually tolled as Hatch ended the quarter on a 10-2 run. A Dudley jumper tied the game at 34 before baskets by Janita Essex and Ahajh Mitchell (the latter coming on a Dudley assist) to put the Lady Bobcats ahead by four with 1:37 to play in the quarter.

Another Essex basket extended the lead to 42-36 at the end of the quarter, and despite coming within 44-42 with 3:50 to play on a Sheriana Allen jumper, Calera would not lead again. Dudley responded to the jumper with her own driving shot and an assist to Essex, and when Paige found Dudley for another jumper with 42 seconds to play to put Hatch up 52-46, the game was effectively sealed. Shanavia Dowdell connected on a three-point basket with 2 seconds left, but it wasn’t enough for the fourth-ranked Eagles.

Dowdell, an All-State player who leads Calera in scoring and is a Louisiana Tech commit, finished with 21 points. But Abrahams still credited his team’s defense on the star center with making a huge difference.

“In the second half, I didn’t think she scored too many points,” he said. “We wanted to slow her up and make someone else beat us. That’s the way we played it.”

Dudley’s 19 points for the Lady Bobcats was followed by Banks’ 13, Essex’s 8, Paige’s 8, and Mitchell’s 4. In addition to Dudley’s MVP honors, Paige and Banks were named to the All-Tournament team.

The win improved Hatch to 25-3 on the season.