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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2007
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Class 6A rivals advance to rematch
Austin, Sparkman familiar
foes in area championship

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

HARVEST — With 32 seconds left Friday night, Austin High long since had iced its win over Bob Jones, and the Black Bears' fans started looking ahead.

"We want Sparkman!" they cheered.

And Austin will get Sparkman. After the Black Bears beat Bob Jones 77-58, Sparkman polished off Florence 66-47 to set up another meeting between the two rivals in the Class 6A, Area 16 tournament finals.

Austin (16-12) and Sparkman (20-8) will face off Monday at 7:30 p.m. for the championship. Both will advance to the sub-regional round, regardless of who wins.

Last year, Sparkman beat Austin for the area title, but the Black Bears beat the Senators in the Northwest Regional finals. In 2005, they reversed it, with Austin beating Sparkman in the area finals before falling in a rematch in the Northwest Regional championship game.

On Friday night, however, Austin cruised to a win behind forwards Jay Sears and George Williams.

Sears scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half, and Williams had 14 of his 18 points after intermission.

"The key was that our guys shared the basketball," Austin coach Demond Garth said. "Our guys look for the hot guy. When a team is making shots, it makes the coach look good."

Austin built a 27-22 lead over Bob Jones (10-15) in the opening half before the Patriots went on a 10-0 run for a 32-27 advantage.

At that point, Garth called a timeout to compose his team and change the strategy from taking jump shots around the perimeter to post play and attacking the basket.

The Black Bears then went on a 19-4 run to close out the quarter, which put them up 46-36 at halftime.

Bob Jones went on a 5-0 spurt to start the third quarter, but Austin made some adjustments to counter again.

Sears started to tire midway through the quarter, and that was when the Black Bears began dumping the ball down low to Williams.

Williams picked up right where Sears left off, scoring most of his points in the low post. He also picked up 11 rebounds.

"I challenged (Williams) this week," Garth said. "I told him, 'You have to play tougher inside,' and he did."

With Austin's offense scoring at an almost automatic pace, Bob Jones started launching 3-point shots and kept missing. The Black Bears outscored the Bob Jones 31-22 in the second half.

Verkeneo Mann added 16 points for Austin.

Scott Proffitt and L.J. Abrins had 14 apiece for the Patriots.

"I had no doubt we were going to win," Williams said. "We're going to keep playing like we played tonight in the next game."

Knowing that Friday's game could have been his last, Sears said he was a little nervous before the game.

"I had a lot of emotion before the game," the senior said. "It made me want to play harder than ever."

Sparkman 66, Florence 47: With Sparkman leading 48-43 after Florence's Bradley Rowlett nailed a 3-pointer, the expected onslaught began.

The Senators outscored the Falcons 18-4 in the final four minutes to make the finals.

"It was obvious that it was a chess match," Sparkman coach Luther Tiggs said. "It felt like we were out of rhythm."

Florence used a zone defense to confuse Sparkman and pull even at 18 at halftime.

The Senators came out firing in the second half, starting the third quarter with a 9-0 run.

Sparkman's Aubrey Bethea had 18 points to lead all scorers, and G.W. Boon added 16. Rowlett led Florence (8-20) with 14 points.

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