By Chris McCarthy/Editor
The Gadsden City High boys basketball program came ever so close to its first trip to Birmingham but ultimately came up short on Tuesday (Feb. 23) in the Class 7A Northeast Regional Tournament championship at Jacksonville State.
Leading Spain Park by two points entering the fourth quarter, GCHS was outscored 20 to 10 over the final eight minutes en route to a 70-61 loss.
Parker Boswell’s three-point basket 22 seconds into the final frame gave the Jaguars (23-9) the lead for good, while Justin Brown’s layup at the 4:15 mark made it a Spain Park 57-51 cushion.
Gadsden City (24-8) did not make its first field goal in the fourth quarter until Darnell Mooney’s trey at the 3:50 mark, but that basket drew the Titans within 57-54, and two field goals from Kalin Johnson – the latter one with 2:15 on the clock – trimmed the GCHS deficit to 61-58.
The Titans forced a turnover on the ensuing Jaguar possession but failed to score, and over the last 49 seconds Spain Park shot 7-for-7 (including a 4-for-4 effort from Jamal Johnson) at the foul line to cap a game-ending 9-3 run.
Kalin Johnson’s trey with 8.3 seconds left was Gadsden’s City’s lone field goal in the last two minutes. The Titans had three turnovers and several missed three-point attempts during the final 90 seconds.
“We’re a good ball-handling team, and we usually thrive in moments like that,” said GCHS head coach Reginald Huff. “We wanted the game to be helter-skelter like that. We squandered a couple of opportunities that could have shifted the momentum our way and even given us an edge down the stretch. It will come back to haunt you when you have turnovers in crucial situations like that.”
Kalin Johnson finished with a team-high 17 points but was just 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. He also came up with five steals.
“I don’t think that that Kalin got into a rhythm today like he did the other day (in the semifinal win over Mountain Brook). But I’ve been there as a player when you know that your team is counting on you to make shots. You do everything you can to will some shots in.”
Spain Park wound up shooting a perfect 16-for-16 from the free throw line, while GCHS converted 69 percent (9-for-13) of its chances.
The Panthers also finished with a 37 to 23 edge in rebounding, including a 31 to 9 margin on the defensive boards.
The Titans shot 35 percent (22-for-68) from the field and 26 percent (8-for-31) from three-point range.
Gadsden City did come out on top in points off turnovers (19 to 9) and bench points (9 to 2).
“We ran into a team that was better than us today,” said Huff. “We knew that we had to make some shots to beat this team, and we took some shots that just didn’t fall. Not one of those shots was a bad shot; every [shot] was one that we normally make. But not one time [during the game] was I ever in doubt that we wouldn’t have a chance to win this thing, because I knew that we could get hot at any moment.”
Shond Kidd-McKinney added 14 points and seven steals. Jacob Hyde chipped in 10 points and Deonte Jones had nine.
“We usually hit more shots than we did, and our field goal percentage wasn’t as good as it usually is,” said Kidd-McKinney. “You’ve just got to make shots.”
Brown paced the Panthers with 25 points, followed by Austin Wiley with 19 and Jamal Johnson with 12. Wiley also grabbed 15 rebounds.
The game went back-and-forth from the opening tip-off, as the lead changed hands 14 times. The Titans jumped out to an early 16-9 lead, but 14 points from Brown helped Spain Park narrowed the gap to 20-18 after one quarter.
Consecutive baskets from Kidd-McKinney provided GCHS with a 30-25 lead at 3:35 of the second period. The Panthers battled back to tie the score at 32-32 before Denzel Mooney’s basket in the closing seconds of the first half sent the Titans into the locker room ahead 34-32.
The teams traded the advantage nine times during the third frame, with neither squad leading by more than four points. A slam dunk and a pair of foul shots from Kalin Johnson in the final minute gave GCHS a 51-50 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“I can’t be more proud of these guys, both in the effort that they put out on the floor and how hard they fought,” said Huff. “I’m just disappointed that our basketball journey has come to an end. They represented Gadsden well.”
Johnson and Kidd-McKinney made the All-Tournament team.