By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Thursday’s game between West Point and Fairview, Warrior Tristan Dubberly drove to his right, rose up and released a wayward jump shot to seemingly send the county contest to overtime.
Instead, West Point’s Wesley Smith leapt as high as he could from under the basket, extended his arm as far as it would reach and tipped the ball up just a fraction of a second before the buzzer sounded. In what seemed like an eternity, it bounced once on the left side of the rim and again twice more before curling toward the middle of the hoop and finally dropping in to clinch a 54-52 knee-knocker for the Warriors.
Smith could only walk away in disbelief after the desperation tip reached the bottom of the net before his teammates rushed the court to celebrate the gripping victory with the hero.
“I held my breath and jumped three times before it went in, trying to tip it in,” Smith said moments after the game. “It was really a luck-of-the-roll shot, and luck was on our side.”
Smith’s squad had revenge on its mind after the Aggies spoiled their shot at back-to-back county titles with a 52-37 final only five days prior. West Point’s Ryder Jones was certainly glad to pay back the favor.
“We just needed to prove it wasn’t a fluke because we played bad against them in the tournament,” said the center, who rose to the occasion on Thursday with a game-high 15 points, including a perfect 9-of-9 mark from the free-throw line. Jones also piled on seven rebounds, one block and a steal.
With Blake Parker sitting the bench in street clothes due to medical concerns, Fairview found themselves shorthanded for the second time this week. Still, the Aggies took an 11-point lead early into the fourth quarter before Jordan McKenzie, Dubberly, Jones, Kris Keller and Smith combined to close the deficit to two.
Dubberly then drained a 3-pointer to put the score back in the Warriors’ favor with 2:45 remaining. Fairview’s Luke Bailey went 1 for 2 from the charity stripe shortly thereafter, setting up the final sequence.
“I would’ve liked to beat them at full force with Parker there, but we’ll take a win over them any day,” Smith said.
With the postseason quickly approaching, Thursday’s contest was the West Point’s senior’s last against Fairview — on the basketball court at least.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Smith said. “We grew up playing these guys, and they’ve always been a great team and really fun to play. It’s an honor to beat them really because they’re a talented team.”
Smith joined Jones in double-digits with 13 points and nearly missed out on a double-double with nine boards. Keller finished with eight points, while McKenzie and Dubberly had seven apiece. Josh Looney and Nick Nuss both pitched in two points.
As satisfying as Thursday’s result was for the Warriors, it was heartbreaking for the Aggies, who ended the week 0 for 3 after lifting the county trophy last Saturday. Fairview coach Greg Boatright placed the blame for his team’s latest loss squarely on his shoulders.
“I’m proud of the way the boys played tonight,” he said. “I should have done a better job of coaching. There were a couple of timeouts I should have immediately signaled for, and I didn’t call them.”
Luke Bailey and Peter Kessler paced the Aggies with 12 points apiece, and Elijah Garrison was just one point back of his teammates.
Parker’s replacements, Tyler Yearwood in the starting lineup and Hayden Maples off the bench, filled in nicely. Maples wound up with eight points, while Yearwood chipped in six. Andy Hendrix rounded out the scoring with three points.
“West Point’s good, and every team we played this week was good,” Boatright said, also referring to Cold Springs and Holly Pond. “I’m not one bit disappointed in this bunch. Next week hopefully Blake will be ready to roll, and we’ll get to work. It’s tournament time.”
Both teams will wrap up the regular season next Monday. West Point will travel to Cold Springs, and Fairview will host Vinemont.
% West Point 50, Fairview 26: Madison Rusk and Rachel Persall teamed up for 22 first-quarter points, and the Warriors built such an overpowering lead early they were able to brush off a scoreless showing in the final frame.
As she’s been all season long, Rusk was downright ruthless in the paint, carving Fairview in the paint like a Thanksgiving turkey. The junior also showed her range by hitting a few longer 2-point shots en route to a snazzy 20-point performance.
West Point’s Persall upped her total to nine after sinking two 3-pointers in the first quarter. Taylor McManus was next up with seven points, Mallory Walker had six; Lexie Burdette, three; Jamie Beasley and Courtney Walker, two each; and Jeri Beasley, one.
Skye Hunter and Julia Creel led the Aggies with six points apiece. Kennedy Trimble and junior-varsity call-up Lizzie Garrison both scored four points. Marlana Johnson was good for three points, Alli Harris, two; and Makena Butts, one.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.