By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
As tends to happen with all good things, Hanceville's playoff run came to an end on Thursday night at Wallace State.
Madison Academy brought its big-boy style of defense to the Northwest Regional Tournament, and the Bulldogs let their guard down just long enough in the second half for the Mustangs to pull away with a convincing 62-38 Class 3A semifinal victory.
Hanceville's sophomore sharpshooter Brontae Harris still managed to score 16 points, but not very many of them came easy. At one point in the second quarter, he resorted to a pair of stop jumpers on back-to-back possessions because Madison Academy's defenders weren't allowing him to do much else.
“It was like a net at a barbecue,” Harris said. “Everywhere you go, there's people bugging you. It's hard because you've never played against a defense like that all year. It's a new thing, a new look. We could've handled it better.”
Behind contributions from Harris, Keith Twitty and Chris Smith, the Bulldogs played the Mustangs relatively close for almost the entire first half. That changed in a hurry, though, as Madison Academy quickly turned a tight five-point lead into a much more manageable 10-point cushion with a 3-pointer, steal and inside basket in the last 20 seconds.
The Mustangs used that momentum to increase their advantage to 15 by the end of the third quarter, and a four-minute span where Madison Academy scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth put the Bulldogs away for good.
“We did exactly what we were trying to do defensively,” Mustang coach Andy Blackston said. “We were able to pressure them full-court, which I think really played into them getting a little tired, especially No. 1 (Harris), who's a dynamic player.”
Madison Academy (20-12) appeared to overwhelm the extremely young Hanceville squad at different points in the contest. Mustang Josh Langford went berserk for 22 points on what he referred to as “one of my worst nights ever” on offense. The 6-foot-4 freshman also pulled down 10 of Madison Academy's 44 rebounds, a whopping 23 more than the Bulldogs were able to snag.
Colby Crossfield and Zach Bogardus broke through with 12 points apiece for the victors, which will play No. 2 Mars Hill for the regional title on Saturday.
“Except for those few minutes (in the fourth), I was pretty happy with the way our guys competed for four quarters against what I think is a team that can probably win it all when it's all said and done,” Hanceville coach Daniel Wakefield said. “They've got length. They've got size. They've got speed. They've got just about everything.”
After Harris in scoring for the Bulldogs was Twitty with three 3-pointers for nine points. Smith finished with six points; Matt Burns, five; and Austin Baker, two.
Hanceville wound up with a 16-14 record in a 2012-13 campaign Wakefield could only describe as a “rollercoaster.” The team began the season on a 6-1 tear, struggled from mid-December to mid-January and then worked its way back up with an area title and a hard-earned sub-regional triumph at home against a solid Hamilton squad.
“Here at the end, I'm just really happy with the way we came on we had to win,” Wakefield said. “Just to get here is obviously satisfying.
You're pretty happy with it, but the further you go, the more
disappointed you are because you see one more, you could've gone to the Elite 8 or two more, you could've gone to the Final 4.”
Nine of the 12 players the Bulldogs dressed this year will return next season. With only one more season remaining in his prep career, Smith wants to go out with a bang — not only for himself but for his teammates and friends.
“It definitely drives me to come back next year and play harder,” Smith said. “These are the guys I play for. These guys look out for me, I look out for them. Their downfalls are my downfalls.”
With the talent he currently has at his disposal, Wakefield firmly believes the sky is the limit for Hanceville's boys basketball program.
“To be that young and get this far, we just hope that if we keep improving, maybe we'll push through in a year or two and get further than this.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.