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    TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2007
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    Danville's Zach Orr drives to the basket against the defense of Hartselle's Alex Brown (24)in a game this season. On Friday, Danville will play at Good Hope in the Class 3A, Area 11 tournament, and Hartselle will host the 5A, Area 13 tournament, facing West Point in the first round.
    Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
    Danville's Zach Orr drives to the basket against the defense of Hartselle's Alex Brown (24)in a game this season. On Friday, Danville will play at Good Hope in the Class 3A, Area 11 tournament, and Hartselle will host the 5A, Area 13 tournament, facing West Point in the first round.

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    Area tourneys set to start with a bang

    A year ago, the Hartselle High boys basketball team found itself in a tough situation.

    Entering the postseason with just two wins, the Tigers fell to top-seeded Athens in the first round of its area tournament. A year later, the same Hartselle team won the Morgan County championship and is hosting the Class 5A, Area 13 tourney after losing just one regular-season area game.

    "It's totally different for us this season because our kids have had some success this year," Hartselle coach Johnny Berry said. "We're playing with so much more confidence right now, and that's a big difference from last year."

    That's the difference a year can make.

    Hartselle has won nine of its last 10 games, including a 59-52 win over Russellville on Monday night, avenging a five-point loss to the Golden Tigers earlier in the year.

    Hartselle has brought back a core group of players that will try to erase the last of the bad memories from 2006 with a little 2007 postseason success.

    "I think if we make a run in the postseason it would do so much for our program," Berry said. "This team is so similar to our team that made it to (the Final Four) in 2003. I think that team had the exact same record as this one after 30 games — we just got hot when we had to get hot."

    For teams like Hartselle's boys, positive momentum will be crucial now that the postseason had rolled around. But even for teams struggling this season, tournament time means new life.

    Here's a breakdown of area tournaments involving local teams.

    Boys

  • Class 1A, Area 11 at St. Bernard: Facing Lynn will prove a tough contest for Mount Hope in the opening round, while Speake should take Meek. Look for Lynn and Speake, which has been dangerous this season, to meet in the finals.

    Pick to win: Speake Bobcats.

  • Class 1A, Area 15 at Hazlewood: This always is one of the most hotly contested area tournaments around. Athens Bible can beat Tharptown, but the Trojans then will have to face host Hazlewood. R.A. Hubbard will face Decatur Heritage in the first round, and it might take an overtime or two to decide that battle. Either way, Hazlewood should be awaiting the winner.

    Pick to win: Hazlewood Golden Bears.

  • Class 2A, Area 10 at Cold Springs: If the Addison Bulldogs can play to their potential, they have a legitimate shot at winning this area. Cold Springs should knock off Oakman to advance, and don't count out the Bulldogs against the hosts in the finals.

    Pick to win: Addison Bulldogs.

  • Class 2A, Area 15 at Tanner: West Morgan has an upper hand on Falkville, but there is no real underdog. Tanner will take care of Hatton to make the finals and meet the West Morgan/Falkville winner — either should pose a challenge for the Rattlers. But Tanner has home-court advantage.

    Pick to win: Tanner Rattlers.

  • Class 3A, Area 11 at Good Hope: Danville draws area regular-season winner Good Hope, and the Raiders should advance. Also look for the hosts to be able to take either Vinemont or Hanceville in the finals without much problem.

    Pick to win: Good Hope Raiders.

  • Class 3A, Area 15 at Lauderdale County: Lauderdale County has been hot this season and should make the finals. West Limestone has had some highlights as well and should be able to eliminate Elkmont in the first round. Lauderdale County's first opponent is Clements.

    Pick to win: Lauderdale County Tigers.

  • Class 4A, Area 14 at Madison County: Former Austin High coach Stuart Allen has the Madison County Tigers playing well. They will host the area tournament and should come out as the winners. Madison County will take on Columbia in the first round, a team that has played a lot of close contests. Ardmore and East Limestone will square off in the other first-round game, where Ardmore looks like the favorite.

    Pick to win: Madison County Tigers.

  • Class 4A, Area 15 at Lawrence County: Priceville should have no problem with Fairview in the first round, as Lawrence County takes on county rival East Lawrence. It should be Priceville and Lawrence County in the finals of this one. And if both teams are at their best, it could be an interesting contest.

    Pick to win: Lawrence County Red Devils.

  • Class 5A, Area 13 at Hartselle: If Brewer beats Cullman in the first round and Hartselle comes out on top over West Point, it will be Patriots vs. Tigers in the finals. The Tigers took both regular season games over the Patriots.

    Pick to win: Hartselle Tigers.

  • Class 5A, Area 16 at Decatur: Decatur can handle Russellville in the first round, but will have to play its best against Muscle Shoals. The Red Raiders downed Muscle Shoals twice in the regular season, but the Trojans will be hungry for a third matchup. They'll have to get by Athens in the opening round first.

    Pick to win: Decatur Red Raiders.

  • Class 6A, Area 16 at Sparkman: Host Sparkman offers a tough place to play, but it's a place that Austin knows well. After a Final Four appearance last season, the Black Bears are a sleeper team this year that should wake up at just the right time. At its best, the Black Bears can beat Bob Jones and then take Sparkman, which should have no trouble with Florence in the first round.

    Pick to win: Austin Black Bears.

    Girls

  • Class 1A, Area 11 at Meek: Playing with confidence down the regular-season stretch, Speake knocked off 2A, No. 7 Addison last week and took care of Lynn in Monday's first round. Mount Hope's girls should come out on top of St. Bernard, placing Speake and Mount Hope in the finals.

    Pick to win: Speake Lady Bobcats.

  • Class 1A, Area 15 at Hazlewood: Based on past successes, including three straight Final Four appearances, host Hazlewood's girls have a lock on the favorite's spot to win the area. Look for Athens Bible to beat Tharptown and then become Hazlewood's first victim in the semifinals. R.A. Hubbard will be favored over Decatur Heritage, but the Lady Chiefs' reward will be facing Hazlewood in the finals.

    Pick to win: Hazlewood Lady Golden Bears.

  • Class 2A, Area 10 at Addison: Consistent play has kept Addison in the state rankings most of the season. The Lady Bulldogs will face Winston County and should have no trouble advancing. Whether Addison faces Oakman or Cold Springs in the finals, the Lady Bulldogs are the strongest team in the area.

    Pick to win: Addison Lady Bulldogs.

  • Class 2A, Area 15 at Tanner: The Lady Rattlers pulled out wins over Class 5A Decatur and 6A Austin to wrap up the regular season — a perfect buildup to tournament time. The Lady Rattlers are an underestimated team and should walk through the area tournament unchallenged.

    Hatton should edge out West Morgan in the opening round and look for Tanner to beat Falkville, placing Tanner and Hatton in the finals.

    Pick to win: Tanner Lady Rattlers.

  • Class 3A, Area 11 at Danville: The Lady Hawks have had their highs and lows this season but should outshine Vinemont to advance to the finals. Plenty of senior leadership will take care of that. If the Lady Hawks advance to the finals, they have a good shot against either Hanceville or Good Hope in the finals.

    Pick to win: Danville Lady Hawks.

  • Class 3A, Area 15 at Lauderdale County: Lauderdale County is a stable presence in the Northwest Regionals and enters as defending Class 3A state champion. That kind of experience will be hard for any team in the area — and possibly all of North Alabama — to overcome. West Limestone vs. Elkmont should be an evenly matched first-round game. Look for Elkmont to take the win and advance to the finals for a chance at Lauderdale County, which likely will be a convincing winner over Clements in the first round.

    Pick to win: Lauderdale County Lady Tigers.

  • Class 4A, Area 14 at East Limestone: East Limestone has been steady this season and will get Columbia in the first round — a game the Lady Indians should win easily. Madison County should beat Ardmore to advance to the finals.

    Pick to win: East Limestone Lady Indians.

  • Class 4A, Area 15 at Lawrence County: Lawrence County has had a regular season to be proud of and it shouldn't end any time soon. East Lawrence can take Priceville in a first-round matchup and advance to the finals against Lawrence County, who will have no problems with Fairview.

    The county matchup for Lady Red Devils vs. Lady Eagles in the finals will have rivalry excitement, but Lawrence County is the favorite.

    Pick to win: Lawrence County Lady Red Devils.

  • Class 5A, Area 13 at Hartselle: In three meetings with Brewer this season, Hartselle has taken two, but the Lady Patriots had the most recent victory. It should be a rematch in the area finals after Brewer beats West Point and Hartselle knocks off Cullman.

    Still, Hartselle's weapons and seniority will probably be too much for anyone in the area to handle.

    Pick to win: Hartselle Lady Tigers.

  • Class 5A, Area 16 at Athens: The Lady Golden Eagles have been the class of the area all season long. A notch above the other programs experience-wise, Athens should march into the final as the overwhelming favorite over whomever it faces. Despite a lack of wins this season, Decatur gets Muscle Shoals in the opening round with a legitimate shot to advance. Russellville should be no match for Athens in the other opening round game.

    Pick to win: Athens Lady Golden Eagles.

    Class 6A, Area 16 at Sparkman: The top-ranked 6A team in the state, Bob Jones, will prove to be the best in this area tournament. The Lady Patriots will romp past Florence in the first round and always-strong Sparkman should pull out a win over Austin. The Lady Senators have the ability to give the Lady Patriots a scare in the finals, but no the ability to beat them.

    Pick to win: Bob Jones Lady Patriots.

    Boys to watch

    Rico Pickett, Decatur, Sr.: His game will determine the pace for the Red Raiders — when Pickett is hot so is Decatur. He's upped his level of play this year with a more balanced attack. He can score, he leads the team in assists, and his athleticism is as good as anyone in the state.

    Josh Bedwell, Priceville, Sr.: Bedwell is a scoring machine and hasn't been held to fewer than 20 points but a handful of times this season. The Bulldogs undeniable leader hopes to guide his team far in the postseason after Priceville advanced to the Final Four last year.

    Zane Campbell, West Limestone, Sr.: He'll score points, he'll grab rebounds and he'll block shots and there's nothing most opponents can do about it. Campbell has had a standout senior season and he might be enough to carry the Wildcats a ways in the postseason.

    Jay Sears, Austin, Sr.: Even thought a variety of Black Bears have stepped up this season, Austin needs Sears — maybe the most of any players. He's been in the heat every intense battle for the Black Bears for the past three years and the postseason provides more chances for him to use that experience.

    Myles King, Lawrence County, Jr.: Lawrence County has shown a balanced attack this year, but King is their best scorer. He's no secret, but even though opponents prepare for him, how to stop him is still a question mark.

    Girls to watch

    Jessy Willingham, Addison, Jr.: Double-doubles are a constant for Willingham, and few teams have been able to stop her inside game this season. Look for her to lead the way as the Lady Bulldogs seek a return trip to the Northwest Regionals.

    Keona Shoulders, Athens, Sr.: It's hard to say whether the Lady Golden Eagles rely on Shoulders more for points or rebounds — she delivers in both categories. Throughout a big regular season for Athens, she's put up the biggest numbers for the Lady Golden Eagles.

    Paige Hood, East Lawrence, Sr.: She has posted some big points this season as the Lady Eagles' main scoring threat. Multi-dimensional, if opponents focus on her scoring, she gets her teammates involved and hurts the opposition with assists.

    Lauren Drake, Hartselle, Sr.: Hartselle's girls have enjoyed a lot of success with Drake in the starting lineup the last four years. She leads the way for a group with a trio of senior leaders that has boosted Hartselle to a 5A, No. 2 ranking and is determined to make the Final Four.

    Andrea Crawford, Brewer, Sr.: The leader of the Lady Patriots both statistically and mentally. With Crawford on the floor, Brewer plays its best basketball. She is sure to put up good numbers, but she also puts her teammates in position to do the same.

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