By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Holly Pond’s been waiting 10 years to lift the varsity boys county trophy again.
After being dismantled by West Point in Friday’s semifinal, go ahead and make that 11.
Kris Keller sparked a second-half surge, Josh Looney stayed hot from downtown and the Warriors played lockdown defense on the top-seeded Broncos to clinch a 59-41 victory and advance to today’s championship.
West Point (17-8) will try to win its second title in as many years despite being run through the gauntlet as the No. 5 team in both instances.
A first-round bye appeared to do Holly Pond (18-5) more harm than good. The Broncos stumbled out of the gate, but luckily for them, so did the Warriors. The rivals traded the lead nine times in the first half, with West Point on top 8-5 after the opening quarter and Holly Pond up 22-21 heading into halftime.
Keller, who only had two points in the first 16 minutes, set the tone for the Warriors early in the third quarter. He quickly hit a 2-point shot to put the score back in West Point’s favor and went on to add a free throw, another basket and a 3-pointer to push the Warriors’ advantage to 42-33 by the end of the frame.
“I was just trying to get us going,” Keller said of his eight-point display in the third quarter. “We were struggling offensively, so I just kind of took the ball and made some easy shots. It worked out pretty good.”
Bronco Cody Jones used his pesky style of defense to cut the deficit to eight with a steal and a layup early in the final quarter.
Looney responded on the ensuing possession, however, knocking down his fourth 3-pointer of the night to immediately swing the momentum right back to West Point.
The scene was chaotic in the second leading up to Looney’s game-changing trey, with blocked shots, botched putbacks and a great deal of grabbing and griping going on under the basket. Once the ball found its way to the senior’s hands in the corner, though, Looney rose up as calm as ever and drained the attempt with ease.
“I was just going through shooting drills all week, and it paid off,” the guard said with a smile.
Holding a 47-36 lead at that point, the Warriors proceeded to finish the ballgame on a 12-5 run to shut the door on Holly Pond. Keller and Jordan McKenzie were a perfect 8 of 8 from the free-throw line on West Point’s last four trips to the line.
Keller’s 14 points just barely edged Looney’s 13-point performance, and Nick Nuss joined the double-digit party with 10.
McKenzie contributed in more way than one, pitching in eight points on offense and constantly frustrating the Broncos’ generally reliable scorers on defense.
Wesley Smith posted six points, while Tristan Dubberly and Ryder Jones both had four apiece.
Austin Smith kept the Broncos in the contest with seven points in the second quarter. He wound up with a team-high 11. Carter Hays connected on two shots from behind the arc, and Colby Adams matched his six-point total.
Other Holly Pond contributors were Gunter Morris, five points; Jacob Cahoon, four; Blake Black, three; and Vince Clingman, Ben Wilson and Jones, two each.
The Warriors were understandably ecstatic to set up a finals rematch with Fairview, who moved on by beat No. 2 Hanceville, but Keller wasn’t ready to celebrate.
“We’re happy,” he said. “But we’re not done yet.”
The key to claiming the title for a second consecutive year was the same for Looney as it was before Friday’s semifinal.
“Defense,” he said. “It’s all about defense.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.