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Wildcats, Bobcats in position to take titles

Greetings from Birmingham, where your friendly neighborhood Sports Editor is psyched for tonight’s boys 2A state championship game, between Uniontown’s own R.C. Hatch Bobcats and the Lanett Panthers. Lanett will be hungry after falling in last year’s state championship by six points to Calera, but there’s little question that with players like Frankie Sullivan, Calvin Pope, and Phillip Johnson, Hatch has the decided edge in talent. We’ll see what happens.

After taking in two days of top-notch action at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ve got plenty of news and notes to relate. Here’s the highlights:

n Wednesday night’s 43-40 semifinal loss to Saks must have been heartbreaking for the scores of Greene County fans that descended upon the BJCC to see their team win a second straight title, but the Tigers have nothing to hang their heads about. In the one-and-done format of the postseason, sometimes you run into a red-hot player and there’s just not much you can do. That happened to the Tigers Wednesday when they met Saks’ Darreyl Griffin, who shot 5-of-7 from three-point land and drilled a fadeaway jumper from the free throw line for the game-winning points. He finished with 23. On some of those plays Greene perhaps could have defended better, but many–including the game-winner, which was made with Howard Crawford’s hand directly in Griffin’s face–were simply incredible shots by Griffin. The Tigers missed some opportunities to outscore the Griffin Show (they shot 3 of 13 from the free throw line) but as hot as Griffin was, the Greene D played as well as could have been expected.

n Poor Priceville. The 2A boys champions from the Northeast Region came to Birmingham with a truckload of vocal fans and plenty of three-point shooting, but I strongly suspect none of the teams in Priceville’s neck of the woods have anything remotely like the athleticism R.C. Hatch put on display in their 85-39 rout of the Bulldogs Tuesday. Priceville had a good team. Several of their guys could really shoot. But there’s just no way to go from playing the likes of Ranburne (who the Bulldogs defeated in their Regional final while Hatch was busy eliminating state No. 1 Altamont in what may have been a de facto stat title game) to the likes of Sullivan, Pope, et al. (As an aside, the Bulldogs’ fans could also learn some manners. My position on press row was just in front of their cheering section, and several students made multiple suggestions of how best to, ahem, deal with Hatch’s overwhelming athletic advantage. “If you’re not going to play basketball, play football!” is probably the only suggestion I can print here. Classy.)

n If you’re one of those fans (I’m certainly one) who likes seeing the teams who beat your team do well later in the playoffs, there was some reason to cheer some of the girls’ results from the first two days. Although it took three quarters to show up, the UMS-Wright Lady Bulldogs showed the same brand of stifling defense and outside shooting that took down the Demopolis girls in their 4A semifinal, downing Anniston 57-44. (They’ll play three-time defending champion Deshler in what it says here is a toss-up.) Meanwhile, the McIntosh Lady Demon squad that narrowly escaped Sunshine in their Regional final upset 1A girls No. 1 and defending champion Spring Garden 49-45. The flip side to these results? Knowing that given how little separated Demopolis and Sunshine from these teams, it’s hard not to think that with a break here and there they could be there in their place.

n The biggest playoff hurdle for Sumter County’s boys on their way to the 2005 championship was Leeds in the Southwest Regional final-in the 3A championship game the Wildcats routed Central-Hayneville 76-60. But despite another close call vs. Leeds in this year’s Regionals, after seeing 3A No. 2 and SCHS finals opponent Madison Academy in person Tuesday, that may not be he case this year. The Mustangs have abundant size (starting with 6-11 sophomore center Bawa Muniru and continuing with three 6-4 seniors to rotate in and out down low) and the shooting to go with it in players like senior forward Tyler Hanback and senior guard Chris Johnson. The Wildcats will need huge games Friday night on the boards from forwards Cordarro Law and Cameron Ezell and center Patrick Delaine. All three will also need to stay out of foul trouble–the only height to speak of on the Wildcat bench is 6-2 forward Jeremy Brown. Sumter County will have to play at the very top of their game to bring home the school’s third consecutive state championship.