Photo: Etowah High’s Taylor Berry (left) drives past Springville’s Max Harrison during the Blue Devils’ 58-57 victory in the Class 5A subregional playoffs last Tuesday (Feb. 12) in Attalla. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Editor/Publisher
Etowah learned first-hand last Tuesday (Feb. 12) why Springville won 24 games this season.
The Blue Devils fended off a pesky Tiger squad, 58-57, in the Class 5A subregional playoffs in Attalla. The victory earned Etowah a second berth in the Northeast Regional Tournament, where the Blue Devil will face Arab in the semifinals this Monday (Feb. 18) at Jacksonville State.
Etowah (17-9) twice blew double-digit leads, once in the first quarter and again in the third. The Blue Devils opened the second half with a 17-5 run that featured three-point baskets from Chris Griffin, Taylor Berry and DeRickey Wright to make it 44-34 at the 4:15 mark of the third quarter.
But Springville’s tank was far from empty. The Tigers (24-4) ended the period with a 9-0 spurt that cut the Etowah advantage to 47-43 entering the final eight minutes.
The Tigers continued to chip away at the lead during the fourth quarter, and Springville eventually went ahead 54-51 on Brandon Daniels’ basket at 3:45.
Respective baskets from Jamin Graham and Wright soon restored the Etowah lead at 55-54 but the hosts fell behind again after Ben Bianchi scored with 2:25 remaining. That basket, however, turned out to be the final field goal of the night for Springville.
A foul shot by Wright tied the game at 56-56, and Graham’s put-back at 1:21 provided the Blue Devils with a one-point advantage.
Etowah then went to the motion offense, forcing the Tigers to foul. Springville got the rebound of a missed one-and-one attempt with 30 seconds left but failed to score.
The Blue Devils attempted to run out the clock but the Tigers regained possession with 1.2 left when Etowah was whistled for a foul under the basket. Springville missed the first free throw attempt but made the second to draw within a point.
Brady Troup was immediately fouled on the ensuing possession, essentially securing the win.
“Springville’s a very good ball club,” said Etowah head coach James Graves. “They were prepared and played us right until the end. We got up by eight or nine points, and here they come. We missed a few easy layups and a few free throws, and [Springville] knocks down a couple of 3’s and they’re right back in the ball game.”
Graves pointed to his team’s lack of success at the charity stripe (9-for-20 for 45 percent) as the reason for the close final score and as a cause for concern going forward.
“We make some more free throws, and it’s a totally different ball game. We have to do a better job at the foul line. We’ve got to get mentally tougher and make those shots. That’s definitely something we’ll be working on in practice this week.”
Wright led the Blue Devils with 15 points, followed by Graham with 14. Emil Smith added nine points, while Griffin chipped in 10 and Berry scored six.
The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 15-4 lead before Springville ended the first quarter on a 9-3 run to draw within 17-13. In a back-and-forth second period, Etowah fell behind by five points before closing within 29-27 at intermission.
Chase Isbell and Hudson Kersh each scored 10 points for Springville, followed by Daniels and Max Harrison with nine each.
Graves acknowledged his senior class of Graham, Emil Smith, Devin Laster, Chris Griffin, Deaundrea Williams, Davian Smith, Justin Harris and Taylor Berry as a special group.
“I can honestly say that this is the winningest group of seniors we’ve had in both basketball and football. Those guys are class acts that get their lessons done, play hard and do what we ask them to do. I’m just happy for them that they get to finish off their high school careers by going to Jacksonville and having a chance to continue to play. Those guys have been there before, and they’ll have to carry us the rest of the way.”