By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
After a quarter-century filled with near misses and close calls, Holly Pond is finally back in the Final 48.
With an unbelievable 107-95 victory over Pisgah on Saturday to clinch the Class 3A boys Northeast Regional Tournament championship this past Saturday, the Broncos secured their first state tournament appearance since 1988, the last of three consecutive seasons the squad accomplished the feat.
“It’s really special,” said Colby Adams, who will head to the BJCC on Wednesday for Holly Pond’s state semifinal versus Southside-Selma at 4:30 p.m. “We’ve had some good teams, but nobody’s been able to make it past regionals. It just felt good to be one of those four teams that’s had that opportunity.”
After a pair of back-and-forth offensive battles with Weaver and Pisgah at Jacksonville State, Mitch Morris can shift gears to prepare for a foe that specializes in defense. Anything other than another game with 70 fouls and 68 turnovers called, or 99 free throws taken by both teams, is just fine with the Bronco coach.
“It may be kind of a normal ballgame, which may not be too bad,” Morris said.
The Panthers (23-9) earned their first Final 48 berth since 2005 by changing up their looks on defense and stifling opponents’ offenses with full-court pressure that produced a fair share of turnovers. They upset No. 6 Barbour County at the semifinal stage and grabbed the South Regional crown by whooping Cottage Hill 65-43.
With Adams, Gunter Morris, Austin Smith and others at his disposal, Morris firmly believes Holly Pond’s uptempo offense will still be able to operate against Southside.
“Another team changing defenses a lot doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “If we can play defense, create some steals, get some bad shots and rebounds, and push it up, then it really doesn’t matter what defense they play.”
Just because defense seems to be the Panthers’ specialty doesn’t mean they don’t know how to score. Southside is home to senior guard Sammarkus Jones, who was chosen as the regional tourney MVP after going off for five 3-pointers and 28 points in the final.
Taking on a team with a high-scoring superstar is nothing new to the Broncos, though. They had Cold Springs (Chayse Elliott), Geraldine (Christian Upton) and Hanceville (Brontae Harris), just to name a few, on their schedule this past season.
“That’s something we face just about every team,” Adams said of having at least one exceptional player to key in on. “Of course at this point, everybody’s going to be able to play, but we just want to try our best to limit him (Jones) as much as we can and not let him go off on us.”
Aside from Jones, Jeffrey Mack is one of the Panthers’ go-to guys on offense. The 6-foot-4 forward had 12 points and seven rebounds in Southside’s easy win over Cottage Hill.
The Panthers have a total of nine players standing at least 5-foot-10, which would be a tall task for many opponents. Holly Pond, on the other, should be more than up for the challenge with its own fearsome foursome in Smith (6’3”), Jacob Cahoon (6’1”), Carter Hays (6’3”) and Ben Wilson (6’4”) taking up space in the paint and on the perimeter.
“As long as they’re not close to 7-foot and 250 pounds, we’re OK. We can manage,” Morris said with a chuckle.
“It’s nice to have those tall lanky guys that have those long arms, can block some shots and get some rebounds,” Adams said of Smith and Hays before moving on to Cahoon and Wilson. “They just do the dirty work, do whatever it takes to get rebounds and help our team win.”
The Broncos pack quite the punch into their starting five of Adams, Morris, Smith, Cahoon and Vince Clingman but also get quite a bit out of their bench, which includes key reserves like Blake Black, Hays, Cody Jones and Wilson.
Adams, for one, is content with the way the entire group has progressed over the course of the season.
“I feel like this team is really unselfish,” he said. “We don’t care if we have 20 points or zero points, as long as we win.”
And win is exactly what Morris believes Holly Pond (26-5) can do against Southside. As long as his boys bring their brand of basketball to the BJCC on Wednesday, he won’t be surprised if the Broncos land in Saturday’s state title game against either Greensboro or Madison Academy.
“I’m not just saying that because that’s something the coach should say,” Morris said. “I really do believe that. If we do things right, I think we’re the better team.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.