Photo: The Sardis High boys basketball team celebrates after winning the Etowah County Schools championship on January 21 at Gaston. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Luke Martin had no intention of letting his school’s chance at its first Etowah County Schools basketball tournament title in 16 years slip away when the game was on the line.
With 1:45 left in the fourth quarter and Hokes Bluff within striking distance at seven points, the Sardis High senior sank 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch to secure a 76-67 victory along with the first-place trophy on January 21 at Gaston.
“With the game as close as it was, I knew it would come down to free throws, so knew I had to put them in for us to win,” said Martin, who was named Tournament MVP after finishing with 31 points. “I just want to give thanks to God for giving us the strength to succeed in this situation. We’re just happy to get the win.”
In a tight game during which neither team led by double digits, the Lions (14-9) were clinging to a 51-49 advantage entering the fourth quarter following Harrison Millander’s 3-point basket at the third period buzzer.
That’s when Martin kicked into high gear, knocking down 3-pointers on three straight possessions to extend the Sardis lead to 63-56 with 3:10 on the clock.
Respective traditional 3-point plays by Jordan Presley and Mason Miller drew the Class 3A No. 6 Eagles (14-8) within four points with two minutes remaining, but Hokes Bluff soon had to start fouling in order to regain possession. The Lions were able to get the ball to Martin, who proceeded to shoot 88 percent at the foul line to seal the victory.
J.J. Anderson added 14 points and five rebounds for Sardis, followed by Eli Morton with 13 points and 10 boards.
“I thought our kids showed a lot of poise down the stretch and they didn’t seem to panic,” said Sardis head coach Van Owens. “If we weren’t able to make a few big free throws at the end, it could have been a different outcome with the way [Hokes Bluff] can shoot the 3. Hokes Bluff is a great team that is well-coached, so we’re fortunate to get the win.”
Presley led the Eagles with 32 points, followed by Kyle Patterson with 14, Millander with 10 and Avron Nix with seven. Patterson pulled down nine rebounds, followed by Nix and Presley with five each.
Anderson and Presley each scored eight points during a first quarter that saw the Lions emerge with a 16-12 lead.
The second period took a while to get through, as Hokes Bluff visited the foul line 11 times to Sardis’ two trips. The Eagles went 15-for-22 in free throws to take a 35-33 lead into halftime.
The Lions regained the lead for good at 44-43 midway through the third period, but it took Martin’s standout performance at the charity stripe to finally put Hokes Bluff away.
Joining Martin on the all-tournament team were Anderson, Kason Moore and Eli Morton from Sardis; Presley, Patterson and Nix from Hokes Bluff; Ashton Knue from West End; Will Shirley and Isaac Barnard from Southside; Andrew Greene and Kade Kueny from Glencoe; and Kendrick Blackwell from Gaston.
“These guys put on so much hard work and put in a lot of time in the offseason, so I’m just so proud for them,” said Owens. “This is great for them and great for our community. We’ve had some adversity this season, and I’m proud of them for overcoming that to put themselves in this position. These seniors [Anderson and Eli Ford] went through some years when they didn’t win a whole lot of games, but they never quit working. They’ve been great leaders and played their roles this season without complaint, and that’s been huge for us.”