By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
There's just something about the Tom Drake Coliseum that works for Hazel Green's boys basketball team. The Trojans blazed through the Class 6A field at Wallace State last year en route to a state runner-up finish and completed the first step toward heading back to Birmingham on Wednesday, taking out No. 5 Hoover by a 68-54 final.
Hazel Green used a 14-0 run to take a commanding lead early in the fourth quarter, allowing the Trojans to stave off multiple comeback attempts by the Buccaneers throughout the eight-minute stretch.
Lewis Sullivan punctuated the Northwest Regional Tournament victory with an electrifying dunk right before the buzzer sounded, sending Hazel Green's well-represented fanbase into chants of, “This is our house.”
The Trojans (24-9) will need to get past Sparkman or Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in Friday's regional championship at 2 p.m. to advance to the Final 48.
Sullivan put together a smooth double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Austin Dempsey scored the most points for Hazel Green with 18. Parker Cothren and Ethan Stair contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Brannon Defore, Kaleb Baugh and Quamauri Hardy provided Hoover (29-5) with a balanced scoring effort. Defore walked away with 11 points, while Baugh and Hardy had 10 apiece.
% Sparkman 48, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 41: Seemingly every time the Patriots made a move, the Senators had an answer holding off No. 9 Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa's come-from-behind bid in the day's second semifinal.
Lamonte Turner drew a foul on a successful layup attempt with 25 seconds left to seal the deal. He finished with 10 points for Sparkman (27-7), as did Devin Hankins, while Justin Garrett led the squad with 12.
D.J. Johnson's 10 points were tops for the Patriots (23-9). James Thomas had nine.
% Hoover 59, Austin 35: The Black Bears had the bigger crowd and flashier halftime show, but the Buccaneers had the bigger plays and bigger score, downing Austin to open up 6A play on Wednesday morning.
Senior star Marqu'es Webb accumulated a massive double-double with 18 rebounds and 16 points for No. 3 Hoover (25-4), which moves on to face Sparkman Friday at 12:20 p.m.
Fellow Black Bear Breigha Wilder-Cochran also went off for 16 points. Sarah Mitchell came through with 11.
Austin's Takisha Jordan was good for 13 points. Tyra Johnson had 10.
The No. 10 Black Bears finished the season 23-8.
% Sparkman 55, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 25: What began as a back-and-forth affair quickly turned into a blowout, as the undefeated Senators stayed perfect by outscoring the Patriots 31-9 in the second half.
Alexis Jennings brought her big-girl brand of basketball to the Tom Drake Coliseum with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Sparkman junior also had two blocks.
Next up for the top-ranked Senators (33-0) was Toni Brewer is with 16 points.
Ambrica Johnson singlehandedly kept Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (22-11) in the ballgame with 14 points in the first half before going 0-fer from the floor in the third and fourth quarters.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.