BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Covenant Christian, Oakwood and a pair of basketball teams from Mars Hill tried to punch their tickets to their respective state title games with victories on Monday at the BJCC in Birmingham.
Covenant Christian 47 , Florala 26 (Boys)
Covenant Christian allowed just 47 points in last year’s Class 1A championship game. The Eagles’ defense was even better Monday. Covenant Christian (30-3), coached by Brett Waldrep, earned a 47-26 victory over Florala in the Class 1A boys’ semifinals at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena and advanced to the Class 1A title for the second straight season.
“I’m really proud of the way we played, especially defensively,” Waldrep said. “If we continue to do that, we have a chance.”
The 2023 AHSAA State Basketball Tournament tipped off its 101st edition Monday at the Legacy Arena with Class 1A girls’ and boys’ semifinals. The Class 2A boys’ and girls’ semifinals will be played in the second session Monday. Classes 3A and 4A will play semifinal games Wednesday.
Florala (23-8), led by Troy Turman, was trying to reach the state championship game for the first time. The Wildcats also advanced to the 1A state semifinals in 1999.
Playing just eight days after the death of Florala High School principal Travis “Max” Whitaker, Florala starters Rayshon Coleman and Christian Greasham played through injuries. When point guard Elijah McMeans got into first- Covenant Christian half foul trouble, the Wildcats’ offense lost any semblance of its rhythm. Florala made just 9-of-36 shots, missed all 10 3-point attempts, and committed 15 turnovers.
“Covenant did a good job with their length and blocking shots at the goal,” Turman said. “The combination of it all made it hard. … It was hard. These guys took on the challenge.”
Jalen Chandler led with 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Trey Kellogg added 12 points and Andrew Brackin had nine points.
Greasham led Florala with 10 points with a 5-of-9 shooting performance from the field. Coleman added eight points, and Dalton Jackson had eight points and seven rebounds.
Covenant Christian advances to Thursday’s championship game, which is set for 5:45 p.m.
“Happy to be back and playing on Thursday,” Waldrep said. “We didn’t think we’d get here once, so to make it make it special.”
Oakwood Academy 52 , Autaugaville 44
Oakwood Adventist Academy had never played in the AHSAA state tournament before Monday.
Now, after the Mustangs’ 52-44 win over Autaugaville, the Huntsville school will play for their first state title on Thursday.
Oakwood (27-8), coached by Melvin Allen, advanced to the Class 1A boys’ state championship game to face defending Class 1A state champion Covenant Christian at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena. The game will tip off at 5:45 p.m., Thursday.
“It’s a feeling that’s really indescribable,” Allen said. “I had chills, almost tears that this is a reality. … We have the opportunity to bring a state championship back to our small school.”
Johnathan Walden led Oakwood with 14 points and eight rebounds, and David Still added 12 points. Camden Edwards contributed 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
Oakwood’s defense stole the show, however, as the Mustangs packed in its 2-3 zone defense and essentially dared Autaugaville to make perimeter shots. It worked, as the Eagles consistently settled for jumpers. “We did great defensively,” Walden said.
Autaugaville (21-7) made just 6-of-36 from 3-point range and 17-of-60 overall. “We didn’t make any shots,” Autaugaville coach Darren Golson said. “We got the shots we wanted. They just weren’t falling.”
Relying on perimeter shots against the zone also meant Oakwood won the rebounding battle 36-20 and kept the Eagles from getting to the free-throw line very often. Autaugaville attempted just seven free throws, making four.
Jaden Nixon, a senior, led Autaugaville with 20 points, 14 rebounds and three steals, but he dealt with foul trouble during most the game and fouled out for the first time in his storied career – which included a perfect 30-0 season and state championship as a sophomore in 2021.
The teams went to halftime Monday tied at 22-all, but Oakwood surged to a 38-31 lead at the end of the third quarter and essentially played keep-away for most of the final period. Oakwood shot 18 free throws in the second half.
“If we could keep them out of the paint and contest their threes, I thought we had a chance,” Allen said. “We stuck with our game plan.”
Mars Hill Girls 70, Geneva County 50
It’s commonplace for teams to struggle offensively in the AHSAA state basketball tournament semifinals.
With seating for more than 17,000 fans, the BJCC’s Legacy Arena offers different sight lines than most high school gyms, and players often complain about the difficulty caused by the different depth perception behind each basket.
On Monday, Mars Hill Bible offered none of those complaints.
Mars Hill (25-5), coached by Flora Sweatt, built a 22-point halftime lead – thanks to shooting 51 percent in the first half – and earned a 70-50 victory over Geneva County in the Class 2A girls state semifinals.
“What’s special about our team is any of them can score at any time,” Sweatt said. “I feel like you have a lot of threats out there.”
Emma Kate Wright scored 20 of her 22 points in the first half, and seventh-grader Belle Hill filled the stat sheet with 19 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Kadence Rolston added 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
Mars Hill advances to Friday’s championship game, set for 9 a.m., at Legacy Arena. It is the school’s first championship-game appearance since 2005.
Geneva County (27-7), led by first-year coach Lacy Holmes, was trying to win its first state title since 2017.
Mars Hill’s offensive onslaught slowed down in the third quarter when senior Wright and Rolston went to the bench with four fouls apiece. Mars Hill led 46-22 at halftime, and it was too much for Geneva County to erase.
Jordyn Alston led the Bulldogs with 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots, and Charlianna Boutwell added 17 points.
“I know not many people thought little ole Geneva County would be at the final four,” said Holmes, who gave birth to a baby boy three weeks ago. “We fell a little short.”
Semifinal games in Class 2A continue today at the BJCC with Classes 3A and 4A competing Tuesday. Classes 5A and 6A open play Wednesday and the 7A semifinals for boys and girls are set for Thursday’s first session. The championships get underway with the 1A finals Thursday afternoon.
St. Luke’s Episcopal 63, Mars Hill (Boys)
St. Luke’s Episcopal High School boys’ basketball coach Garreth Trawick called timeout to calm his team.
Mars Hill Bible’s J.O. Owens had just scored a layup with 2:37 remaining, capping a 13-0 run and sliced the St. Luke’s lead to 53-52 in a Class 2A Boys’ State Basketball Tournament semifinals.
Monday at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena. The Panthers had the momentum, but St. Luke’s (16-11) had the lead.
“Coach reminded us that we were still up, and they had to get a basket,” St. Luke’s senior Kamerion Chambers said. “We had to stay calm.”
The Wildcats’ Mike Myles sank two free throws on the ensuing possession, and Mars Hill (24-10) didn’t score again until less than 30 seconds remaining as St. Luke’s pulled away for a 63-56 victory. The Wildcats scored their final 10 points on free throws.
“We just couldn’t make a shot down at the other end and get over that hump,” Mars Hill coach Jim South said. “And it took so much energy to come back.”
St. Luke’s advances to Friday’s championship game, looking for its first boys’ basketball state championship after falling in the 1A finals in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
“I preach it all the time. Defense wins championships, period,” Trawick said. “I don’t know if I’m the coach to do it, but I’m going to try my hardest.”
Mars Hill, which scored 27 points in a frantic fourth quarter, was also chasing its first boys’ basketball state title.
Brandon Cooks led St. Luke’s with 21 points, 12 rebounds and three steals, and Myles added 16 points and six assists. Chambers scored 14 points.
Mars Hill senior Hugh Hargett led all scorers with 28 points, including six 3-pointers. Connor Pigg added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Owens handed out five assists.