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2 Decatur teams in state basketball finals
Austin qualifies in triple-overtime thriller; first time both teams have been in championships since 1969

By Mark Edwards · 340-2461

HANCEVILLE — Maybe this year, they’ll get Austin High’s nickname right in the program.

When the school’s boys basketball team advanced to the state Class 6A Final Four in Birmingham last year, the game program featured a picture of each team that made it. Underneath the Austin picture, the team was listed as the “Austin Senators,” which is the nickname of Sparkman, a chief rival of the Black Bears.

Surely that couldn’t happen again to a team from a city that rules boys high school basketball at the moment.

Austin won the Class 6A Northwest Regional with an 82-79 triple-overtime win over Thompson on Saturday to make next week’s Final Four again. The Black Bears will join Decatur High’s boys team, which earned a spot in the 5A Final Four with a regional win Friday.

“Now that we’ve got both teams from Decatur there, we both need to win a state championship,” Austin High senior standout Jay Sears said. “We talked about that this summer.

“We’re all friends with each other, and we would be in the gym shooting and talking about how they’re 5A and we’re 6A, we both need to get to Birmingham and win state championships.”

Austin will face defending 6A champion Jeff Davis on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, while Decatur will meet John Carroll on Friday at 10:30 a.m.

In most years, Austin and Decatur have played in the same region in the same classification, and only one would have the opportunity to advance this far. But the state’s high school association moved Decatur from 6A to 5A this year, while Austin remained in 6A, giving them a path clear of each other.

“Both teams are truly pulling for each other,” Austin coach Demond Garth said. “It’s not fake. Since they’re in 5A and we’re in 6A, we root for each other.

“When we were in the same classification, it was hard to root for another team like that, but now it’s different.”

Both schools made it this far in 1969 when Austin won the 3A state championship and Decatur made it to the 4A semifinals before falling to eventual state champ Parker.

Several Decatur High team members attended Austin’s game Saturday. Head coach Jamie Lee watched much of the game with former Decatur boys coach Wallace Sanders, a regional tournament committee member. Decatur players Jarodiaus Willingham, Richard Tapscott and Rolando McClain watched from courtside seats.

“With both teams going, I think this is a testament to our rec centers in Decatur that give kids a chance to develop and a chance to play,” Lee said. “Rec centers are big in Decatur, and because of them, our kids always have a place to play. It’s also a testament to the tradition of the programs at Austin and Decatur.”

Lee added that the two teams’ success also speaks to the talent of their seniors. Decatur starts five 12th-graders (Willingham, Tapscott, Gary “G” Redus, Drei Marthaler and Rico Pickett) and brings five more off the bench, while Austin starts two (Sears and Travis Cohn) and has one who plays as a reserve.

“It’s amazing how good these players are,” Lee said.

Morgan County will send three teams to the Final Four. In addition to the boys squads from Decatur and Austin, Hartselle’s girls squad made the 5A Final Four.

The last time the county sent that many teams happened in 2001. Decatur’s boys, Decatur’s girls, Hartselle’s boys and Decatur Heritage’s boys made up their own Morgan Four at the Final Four. None brought home a state championship.

And as for this year’s Final Four game program, state officials already have fixed one problem — the Austin team picture.

After each Northwest Regional championship game, a photographer takes a picture of the winning team at midcourt. That picture gets used in the game program, but about 15 minutes after Austin’s win Saturday, a state official approached Garth and informed him of a problem.

In the picture taken after Sunday’s game, the photographer inadvertently cut out Garth, who stood at the end of the back row. A new picture was taken at midcourt during halftime of the 4A girls championship game.

“It’s always something,” Garth said, laughing.

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