Photo: Southside High’s Tristan Riggan goes up for a basket between Hokes Bluff’s Braydon Hill (10) and Dylan Teague (21) during the Eagles’ 52-45 victory in the Etowah County boys high school basketball tournament championship on Saturday (Jan. 20) at Hokes Bluff. (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Hokes Bluff overcame a slow start to knock off Southside, 52-45, to capture the Etowah County boys high school basketball tournament championship on Saturday (Jan. 20) at Hokes Bluff.
The Panthers led 11-5 after the first quarter but Landon Johnson kept the Eagles in the game by scoring Hokes Bluff’s first nine points.
Hokes Bluff (17-4) was more productive offensively in the second quarter thanks to Johnson and Hayden Lipscomb, and Southside didn’t make a field goal for over five minutes in the second quarter as the Eagles carried a 20-17 lead into halftime.
The second half included multiple runs from each team, including a 13-3 stretch from Southside in the third quarter. Hokes Bluff extended its lead to 25-19 after a made three-pointer from Donovan Greaves, but the Panthers started attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line.
Tristan Riggan and Chris Lengyel helped Southside erase the six-point lead, and the Panthers took a 32-30 lead into the final quarter.
Hokes Bluff responded with a run of its own as Greaves buried a three to give the Eagles a 33-32 lead. On Southside’s next possession, Hokes Bluff guard Ashton Gulledge stole the ball and passed the ball ahead to Braydon Hill for a layup. After another defensive stop, Greaves connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead to 38-32.
However, the Panthers countered with their own run to regain the lead.
Riggan hit a three, and then he hit a layup and earned three points the old-fashioned way to tie the game at 38-38. Two made free throws from Devin Laster gave Southside a 42-41 edge before Hokes Bluff center Hayden Lipscomb took over the game down the stretch.
Lipscomb scored seven points and snagged three rebounds in the final 1:22 of the game – including a pivotal offensive rebound that led to a layup and free throw.
The Eagles went on a 9-0 run to take a 50-42 lead with 20 seconds remaining, and Greaves iced the game with two free throws.
Hokes Bluff head coach Jeff Noah said he was proud of the way his team battled after Southside’s fourth quarter run and credited Southside’s defense for creating issues for the Eagles’ offense throughout the night.
“Several times tonight we went through some adversity, and we kept fighting and finding a way,” Noah said. “That’s what we’ve done all year. It might not have been pretty, but a lot of times we’ve found a way to get the job done.
“Coach (Chad) Holderfield and Southside – that’s one of the best defensive teams you’re going to play. Every year, they do a tremendous job. If you score, you’ve had to earn it.”
Johnson led all scorers with 20 points and seven rebounds and was named the MVP of the tournament. Greaves, Lipscomb and Hill joined him all the all-tournament team. Greaves scored 14 points, while Lipscomb chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds.
Riggan, Lengyel and Gavin Orr made the all-tournament team for Southside. Lengyel led the Panthers with 15 points, while Riggan scored 10.
The Eagles will look to build on the county championship as they dive back into area play Tuesday (Jan. 23) against Cherokee County. Noah said his team’s unselfish attitude has been instrumental for their success.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Noah said. “They work hard, and they are 12 guys who are unselfish and focused on the team. The team comes first before anything else. To me, that speaks a lot.”