By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Coach Mitch Morris has seen his share of tough defeats in Holly Pond’s past two regional games.
The Broncos dropped a gut-wrenching 56-55 decision to Lauderdale County in 2011 before coming up short against Elkmont 72-62 last season.
With both those defeats coming at Wallace State, it’s no surprise the Bronco coach is relishing a change of venue in next Thursday’s Northeast Regional Tournament game at Jacksonville State University.
“Our last two years, we’ve lost extremely close games that I thought we should have won,” Morris said. “I think the team is excited to be going to a new place this time around.”
The two venues are separated by more than 90 minutes, but Morris feels his team will see plenty of familiarity on gameday.
“We travel extremely well,” he said. “They’ll see a lot of green and white in the stands on Thursday.”
Holly Pond will take on Weaver (21-9) at 9 a.m. A win over the Bearcats would pit the Broncos against either Pisgah or Ashville for the regional championship on Saturday. Holly Pond, Class 3A’s seventh-ranked squad, lost to Ashville 63-55 at the WQSB Christmas Classic in late December.
One advantage for Holly Pond is the road to Birmingham appears to be a bit smoother through JSU than through the Northwest Regional at Wallace State.
The Broncos avoid Mars Hill Bible (26-5) and Madison Academy (20-12), a team that’s won three state titles in the past seven years.
Morris had no shame admitting he was glad to see the Mustangs on the other side of the bracket this season.
“In my first years at Holly Pond, they (Madison Academy) were in our area,” he said. “Being on the other side now, it’s a good feeling and a big deal to be away from them based on their recent success.”
Despite future opponents, Morris said he will worry more about his own team heading into regional play.
“I don’t know much about Weaver,” he said. “That’s really the first team we will play all year that we don’t know much about. However, if we play the way we are capable of playing, we can beat anybody.”
For Holly Pond girls coach Scott Adams, playing just down the road would’ve had its fair share of pros and cons.
The Lady Broncos were 6-1 at the Tom Drake Coliseum this season, including a title-clinching performance during the county tournament. However, a change of venue doesn’t seemingly matter for Adams’ squad.
“Wallace has been a comfortable environment for us this season,” he said. “But I think going to Jacksonville, going somewhere different creates more excitement for the players and for the fans as well.”
Holly Pond will face off against a tough Piedmont squad on Thursday that poses plenty of problems for the Broncos.
The Green and White’s road to the Final Four wouldn’t have been much easier had it gone through Wallace State, where the Broncos would have been grouped with Lauderdale County and Madison Academy, the past two Class 3A state champions.
“It’s good that we avoided the defending champs (Lauderdale County), but to get to the Final Four, you’ve still got to play,” Adams said.
The Broncos’ last three playoff losses have come to teams who went on to play for the state title.
“We’re going to have to play tough teams,” the coach added. “This team isn’t a stranger to big games, though.”
Only three other county teams are still in contention — both Cold Springs’ squads and Hanceville’s boys.
The No. 7 Lady Eagles (Class 2A) will take on No. 5 Red Bay (27-3) Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Wallace State, while Tim Burleson’s team will duke it out with Hatton (18-9) immediately following at 4:30 p.m.
Hanceville, led by sharpshooting sophomore Brontae Harris, will face a huge test Thursday at 7:30 p.m. when the Bulldogs square off against Madison Academy (19-10).
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.