By Chris McCarthy/Editor
A standing room-only crowd at the Coliseum was treated to a barnburner on Tuesday (Jan. 24).
In a matchup of the only state-ranked boys teams in the area, Class 2A No. 9 Westbrook Christian battled back from a 19-point halftime deficit to post a 72-69 victory over Class 1A No. 3 Coosa Christian in Gadsden.
Following a missed Conqueror shot with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors (19-6) quickly set up on offense and swung the ball around to the left corner, where Cullen Stafford was stationed just outside the three-point line. The junior forward fired off a shot that fell through the net as the buzzer sounded, capping Westbrook’s double-digit rally.
The Conquerors led the entire game until Stafford’s trey.
“I wasn’t really thinking at that point; my mind was blank,” said Stafford, who finished with 13 points along with seven rebounds. “Afterwards, I just thanked the Lord for letting me hit that shot. That was all on Him. Coach (Donny) Pruitt asked us at halftime if we had any heart, and we went out and proved that we did.”
The Warriors indeed showed their collective mettle over the final 16 minutes. Trailing 43-24, the visitors crashed the boards with a vengeance, especially on the offensive end. Westbrook turned many of those rebounds into points and gradually narrowed the gap to single digits. After Caden Davison’s basket midway through the third quarter provided the Conquerors (16-3) with a 53-37 lead, the Warriors finished off the period with a 16-2 run. A pair of free throws from Will Jones with six seconds left brought Westbrook back to within 55-53.
Troy Bearden’s layup at the 5:45 mark of the fourth tied the game at 58-58, and the game went back and forth from that point on. Davidson scored seven of Coosa’s 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a jump shot at 3:23 that gave the hosts a four-point cushion.
A pair of three-pointers by Jones tied the game at 67-67, and with a minute to go Coosa committed an unforced turnover at halfcourt. Westbrook eventually turned that miscue into points on Beecham’s game-tying basket with 37 seconds left. The Conquerors never scored again, setting up Stafford’s last-second heroics.
Braden Beecham finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while William Wethington had 14 points and six rebounds. Will Jones contributed 12 points, five assists and four steals, while Troy Bearden scored 11 points. Tyler Self added six points and rebounds, while John Catanzaro distributed five assists.
“I told our guys at halftime that we would find out how much heart we had,” said Westbrook head coach Donny Pruitt. “I told them that we had to fight and claw and scratch against a team that was 19 points up on its home floor. We chipped away for a while but they chipped back. Then we had a little bit of a run and got it to under 10 [points], and you could see it starting to click for us. They were taking away some things on offense but they were also giving us a few things, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Pruitt noted that the ball was in good hands in the final seconds.
“They took away Will on the outside and we were able to get the ball down to Cullen. He is one of our best three-point shooters but he’s also one of the toughest kids around. The harder the game gets, the more he grinds, so this was his type of ball game.
“Sometimes you get a game where its’ a shame that either team had to lose,” added Pruitt. “Tonight was one of those games. Coosa’s kids really played their hearts out.”
Davison paced the Conquerors with 23 points, followed by Caleb Sanderson with 12, Caleb Garrett with nine and Alex Holman and Evan Delp with seven each.
“I told the kids [at halftime] that [Westbrook] wasn’t going anywhere,” said Coosa head coach Richard Hollingsworth. “We knew that their post presence and offensive rebounding would be the difference. Coming out of the third quarter, we challenged each other to slow [Westbrook] down for two or three minutes. Westbrook went and got the rebounds, and I think that fueled their fire. We talked before the game about not leaving [Stafford] open in the corner, and you’ve got to give him credit fore making a shot like that one. As much as we want to win, these are great games to play in, win or lose.”
The Conquerors welcomed their neighbors from Rainbow City with an 11-2 game-opening run. Davidson scored eight points during that stretch, and a three-pointer by Sanderson gave the hosts a double-digit lead with under two minutes to go.
Wethington’s buzzer-beating jump shot drew the Warriors within 23-15 after eight minutes.
Coosa steadily pulled away in the second frame. After Stafford’s three-pointer kept the visitors within 10 points, the Conquerors reeled off an 11-2 run that propelled the hosts t a 43-24 lead at intermission.
“Coach Hollingsworth really had them ready to play, and Coosa did a really good job on us in the first half,” said Pruitt. “We had 15 turnovers at halftime, and you cannot do that against a very good team like Coosa. We seemed disjointed and weren’t getting any second shots on offense, and a lot of the shots that we did take were bad. We didn’t have patience, and defensively, we weren’t taking away any of Coosa’s strengths.”