By Chris McCarthy/Editor
For the first time in school history, a Hokes Bluff boys basketball team’s season will include a late February trip to Jacksonville.
The fourth-ranked Eagles overcame a subpar shooting performance on Friday (Feb. 14) to post a 44-40 victory over Cleburne County in the Class 4A subregional round at HBHS.
Hokes Bluff (27-5) plays No. 2 Madison County on Thursday at 7:30 in the semifinals of the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State.
“It was probably the worst we’ve shot the ball in a long time, and we couldn’t buy a free throw (7-for-21 for 33 percent),” said Hokes Bluff head coach Greg Watkins. “They played a good zone [defense] and we never really got into the flow of the game. We were up by 14 or 15 [points] but we had some turnovers and they got back in it. They were doubling down hard on Isaac [Haas], and we pressed a little bit and were a little impatient. But I give our guys credit for doing a good job against that adversity.”
After leading 10-7 after one quarter and 24-18 at halftime, the Eagles took a 37-23 advantage into the fourth period.
The Tigers then used the charity stripe to get within striking distance, shooting a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line. Tyler Berry’s two foul shots with 5:21 left narrowed the gap to 39-30.
Kaden Moore’s basket on the next possession restored Hokes Bluff’s double-digit lead, but four points from Max Pritchard cut the Eagle advantage to 43-38 with just over a minute left in the game.
That was as close as the Heflin squad got. Brack Shields nailed a free throw with 30 seconds to go to make it a six-point game, making Pritchard’s buzzer-beating layup meaningless.
Haas finished with a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. He also had three blocks.
“It’s an unexplainable feeling right now,” said Haas, who signed a basketball scholarship with Purdue University in November. “Tonight obviously wasn’t my night, but I’m just so happy that I can depend upon my teammates to let them do what we need to do to win when I’m not there to perform at my best level. We definitely need to work on some stuff before we get to Jacksonville, but I’m so proud of my team right now, it’s unreal.”
Moore contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, while Shields added seven points and four assists.
Pritchard led Cleburne County with 20 points.
“This is very, very special, just because I know how hard this group has worked the last few years to get to this point,” said Watkins. “For the past few years, we’ve talked about winning the county and area championships and getting to Jacksonville, and now these guys have done that. You like to see good things happen to good guys.”