By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Four Fairview starters and one reserve player posted double-digit point totals, and the Aggies moved one step closer to hosting their area tournament by sending St. Clair County home with a 72-59 whooping Friday night.
With big-man Blake Parker drawing two early fouls, Fairview turned to Elijah Garrison, Peter Kessler, Luke Bailey and Andy Hendrix to pick up the slack. All four players had no problem stepping up to the challenge, contributing at different points in the ballgame to help the Aggies pick up their 16th win.
Garrison continued to play like a man possessed, nailing nasty jumpers and sinking sick layups en route to a team-high 17 points. The junior did most of his damage in the first and fourth quarters, scoring eight and five, respectively.
Kessler, usually content with facilitating the offense instead of shooting, decided to change up his gameplan. Without Parker’s physical presence in the paint, the point guard went on an offensive tear to enter halftime with 10 points. He finished the night with 14.
“Sometimes we get going a little too fast, and I’ve got to keep everybody under control,” Kessler said of his role on the team. “Tonight in the first half, I needed to score, so I scored. I’ll do whatever is necessary.”
Bailey had his hand in Fairview’s 19-11 advantage by the end of the first quarter with one 3-pointer and six points in the eight-minute span. The multi-sport stud capped off a 13-point performance with a layup and another trey in the third quarter.
All 11 of Hendrix’s points came in the third quarter. The sharpshooter found the scoreboard for the first time all night while being fouled on a layup before going off for three other baskets and one more three-point play.
Ethan Widner wound up being an exceptional replacement for Parker down low, matching Hendrix’s 11-point total. Parker tallied four points, and Logan Allen brought the crowd to a roar by adding two points off the bench in the waning moments.
“Everybody on our team can score. Everybody can play defense,” Kessler said. “We have no weak player, really. Everybody has strengths at every spot.”
Josh Hardrick, 17 points, and Markett Clark, 13, were St. Clair County’s high scorers.
The Aggies improved to 16-6 and concluded Class 4A, Area 13 play with a 4-2 mark. The Purple and Gold assured no worse than a tie with Oneonta (3-2) or Locust Fork (3-2) for the regular-season area title.
The Redskins defeated the Hornets on Friday night and will play them one more time on Jan. 29. Hosting rights will come down to a coin flip between whichever team wins that matchup and Fairview.
“After we dropped those two early, we knew we had to step it up because we felt like we shouldn’t have lost either one of them,” Kessler said of Fairview’s area defeats to Oneonta and Locust Fork. “Early on, we weren’t working on the fundamental things. Now we’re scoring over 70 and holding people to less points.”
Next up for the Aggies is the Cullman County Tournament. They’ll get going versus either Vinemont or Good Hope next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re ready,” Kessler said. “That article in the paper said we had an easy road at No. 3, but we don’t want to be No. 3. We’d rather be No. 1 beating Cold Springs and West Point.
“West Point beat us early. We want them again. If they get in the championship again, that’s where we want to be.”
% Fairview 38, St. Clair County 30: It wasn’t always pretty, but the Aggies closed strong to pick up their seventh victory and secure the No. 3 seed in the upcoming area tournament.
Fairview led by as many as five early but never could pick up much steam, allowing the Saints to keep it competitive.
St. Clair County took a one-point lead 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Julia Creel immediately put the score back in the Aggies’ favor by hitting a free throw and swishing a lengthy jump shot.
The Purple and Gold took over from there, closing out the contest on an 11-4 run to seal the deal.
“We pulled it out in the end,” Fairview coach Cheryl Mangum said. “We just can’t afford those starts.”
The outcome kept the Saints winless on the season.
As the third seed, Fairview will play No. 2 Locust Fork in the area tournament, which will be hosted by Oneonta.
The Aggies will open up varsity action at the county tournament on Monday when they face Hanceville in the play-in game. The winner will advance to take on second-seeded Holly Pond.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.