By Stan Veitch/Sports Correspondent
The bracket is filled in and the championships set for the 2016 version of the Etowah County Basketball Tournament, with the Hokes Bluff girls and the Southside boys winning on Thursday (Jan. 21) to join the Southside girls and Glencoe boys in the title tilts.
Originally scheduled for Friday (Jan. 22), the championship games were postponed until Saturday at Gaston High due to inclement weather. The girls game is set to begin at 6 p.m., while the boys start at approximately 7:30 p.m.
Sardis led throughout most of Thursday’s boys game, but the Panthers (8-13) made a comeback and wound up taking a 40-29 win in a very defense-oriented game.
The Lions (8-12) scored the game’s first five points and extended the lead to 11-5 by the end of the first quarter. The lead was 21-11 at halftime, the largest margin that Sardis was to enjoy.
“We were really flat in the first half,” Panthers coach Chad Holderfield said. “We didn’t really make adjustments (at halftime), but our defensive effort changed. We challenged them to answer the bell on defense, and they did.”
The first half of the third quarter was back and forth, but about midway through the quarter Southside scored five consecutive points to close the gap to 26-22 with 2:33 left.
“In the first half, we were able to answer their runs,” Lion coach Van Owens said. “But they got a couple more runs (in the second half) than we did. We were still running our plays well – the ball just quit going in the basket.”
Owens noted that part of that could be attributed to youth, as Sardis has a lot of underclassmen.
On the last play of the third quarter, Panther Gavin Orr converted a three-point play the hard way, and the free throw gave Southside its first lead of the game at 27-26.
The Panthers scored the first four points of the final quarter and were able to make enough free throws down the stretch to ice the contest.
Orr led Southside with 12 points, all but two coming in the second half.
“We’re a very undersized team,” Holderfield said. “But Orr gives us an inside presence. We like to play as an inside-outside team, and when he’s playing well, it gives us a good spark.”
Sardis’ John Holland amassed 13 points.
In the girls’ game, Class 4A No. 8 Hokes Bluff (19-3) had a huge second quarter, en route to a 51-27 victory. The Eagles led Glencoe 10-7 after one quarter, but by halftime that lead had grown to 33-9.
“We’ve been playing better defense as a team lately,” Hokes Bluff coach Jason Shields said. “We gave up too many second shots in the first quarter, and when we corrected that, we got rolling.
“Defense is a team effort and the girls did a good job of rotating and staying with the ball. We got a lot of easy baskets (in the second quarter) and that is a result of good defense.”
The Eagles’ Kendall Johnson scored seven of her 16 points in the second quarter. Tylynn Register amassed 15 points, with 11 of them in the second quarter.
Breia Little led the Yellow Jackets with 10 points, while Lauren Cole contributed nine.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the lead was 39-15.
“(Hokes Bluff) did an amazing job playing defense, especially in the second quarter,” Glencoe (9-13) coach Daniel Cook said. “And we had the traditional snowball effect – once it started rolling, it just grew and grew. But I’m proud of my girls for not quitting. They kept battling to the end.”