By Russell Moore
For The Times
As hot as Hanceville High senior Keith Twitty was from behind the arc in the first half Friday night, he appeared to be just as dangerous from as far away as Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum.
Twitty and the Bulldogs can try those shots next week after outlasting Winfield 74-71 in an entertaining Class 3A sub-regional at Lane Horton Gymnasium.
Twitty scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half, nailing four 3-pointers before intermission, Brontae Harris added 17 and the Bulldogs made sure to punch their short gallop to the Northwest Regional Tournament for the second consecutive season.
Hanceville (23-7) will play Colbert County (20-6) Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
“This win means a lot for a lot of reasons. I remember as a 10th-grader, I was getting ready to join the varsity and we didn’t have a gym," said Twitty, a senior. "Last year we made a run and a lot of people attributed that to us playing in the old gym and rallying around that, and now we’ve made another run in this new, beautiful gym. We’ve been a good team all along the way. Those are good stories, but we’re a good team.
“We have a sour taste in our mouth from losing at Wallace State last season, so we’re glad to have an opportunity to get back. We want to win a few more games.”
Like last season’s sub-regional overtime win against Hamilton, Hanceville (23-7) had to scratch and claw to advance.
The Dawgs led the entire first half, thanks in large part to a Twitty’s hot hand. The sharpshooter nailed a pair of treys in both the first and second quarters. Hanceville led 23-22 after the first quarter and extended it to 43-33 with 2:02 left in the first half after Xavier Malcom drained a 3-pointer.
The home team led 43-37 at intermission.
Winfield kept chipping away in the third quarter and took its first lead of the game, at 48-46 with 4:22 remaining, on freshman Payton Stovall’s 3. It was then tied 48-48 with 2:27 left in the third before the Pirates closed the quarter on quick 7-2 run, putting together a 55-50 advantage.
It really got fun in the final period. There were five lead changes and two ties during the opening five minutes of the fourth. The last tie came after Harris hit a 3-pointer for Hanceville with 2:56 left, making it 67-67.
Twitty was relatively quiet in the second half but saved another big bucket for an opportune time. His runner off the glass with 2:11 remaining gave the Bulldogs a slim 69-67 advantage. They never relinquished it. Twitty, Malcom and Chris Smith combined for five free throws over the final 1:02 to put a lid on the win for Hanceville.
“We talked in the locker room before the game how we knew we were going to have to earn this one. We knew it was going to be a battle from the opening tip. When you play a team with nearly 20 wins, it’s not going to be easy,” Hanceville coach Daniel Wakefield said. “I’m proud that we battled the entire way, especially when we were down five. We didn’t lose our composure. We kept playing hard, made stops and were able to make some huge shots from the outside.”
Smith added 11 points for Hanceville, while Malcom had nine. Senior Marshall Johnson also had six huge points off the bench in the fourth quarter and collected a handful of hustle rebounds.
“Marshall played one of his better games for us. That’s great to see from a senior,” Wakefield said. “We depend a lot on the 3 ball. We know we have to shoot it well to succeed. If we get hot, it makes things a lot easier for us, and it makes me look good as a coach when you have guys who shoot like that.”
Keith Jenkins led Winfield (18-8) with a game-high 27 points. McChael Smith finished with 12 points and Logan Bradford added 10.