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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2007
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Hazlewood’s D.J. Jones, left, beats Speake’s Jacob Moody to the ball in the Golden Bears’ 68-51 win in the regional semifinals at Wallace State-Hanceville on Wednesday. Hazlewood plays Sulligent at 5:20 p.m. Friday for a berth in the state tournament in Birmingham.
Daily Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Hazlewood’s D.J. Jones, left, beats Speake’s Jacob Moody to the ball in the Golden Bears’ 68-51 win in the regional semifinals at Wallace State-Hanceville on Wednesday. Hazlewood plays Sulligent at 5:20 p.m. Friday for a berth in the state tournament in Birmingham.

Hazlewood sends Speake home before R.A. Hubbard falls

By Mark Edwards
medwards@decaturdaily.com · 340-2461

HANCEVILLE — If Hazlewood's boys basketball team makes a second straight trip to the Class 1A Final Four, it probably won't surprise Speake coach Bradley Hembree.

After all, Hembree has gotten a good, up-close look at Hazlewood this year — maybe too much of one for his tastes.

Hazlewood has beaten his Speake Bobcats three times this season in three tries, and the latest came Wednesday in the Northwest Regional semifinals when the Golden Bears eliminated Speake 68-51.

"Without a doubt, Hazlewood is the best team we've played this year," Hembree said.

Hazlewood (20-10) will play Sulligent (27-2) in Friday's regional finals at Wallace State-Hanceville at 5:20 p.m. The winner will advance to next week's Final Four in Birmingham.

Sulligent advanced with a 72-67 win over R.A. Hubbard in Wednesday's other semifinal.

Speake won 22 of the 26 games in which it didn't face Hazlewood to finish the year at 22-7.

The Bobcats challenged Hazlewood strongly for a half.

They survived 18 first-half points from Kerry Jones, who nailed five 3-pointers, and the Golden Bears led only 37-34 at halftime.

Then came the vaunted Hazlewood full-court pressure defense. Speake saw it in the first half, but not like this.

Hazlewood forced 15 second-half turnovers, limited Speake to four third-quarter points and held a double-figure lead for the final 12 minutes of the game.

"In the second half, we picked up the intensity and the pressure," Hazlewood coach Shane Childress said.

Speake held Jones scoreless in the second half, but junior forward Keginald Harris pitched in 10 to finish with 19 points.

Speake's Jacob Moody finished with 16 points, while K.C. Orr added 12 and Juarez Fitzgerald 11. The trio combined for 17 points after halftime.

"Their pressure was good in the first half, but they turned it up another notch in the second half," Hembree said.

Hazlewood will face a new opponent next. The Golden Bears haven't played Sulligent, but had played R.A. Hubbard four times, winning three of those matchups.

"Playing somebody a fifth time —that's bad," Childress said. "The more you play somebody, the closer you get."

Sulligent boys 72, R.A. Hubbard 67: The Chiefs (13-14) nearly pulled off the biggest comeback of the Northwest Regional after trailing by 25 at one point in the third quarter.

Sulligent built its lead to 46-21 with 5:22 to play in the third period before R.A. Hubbard began chipping away at the advantage.

The Chiefs sliced the lead to 18 by the end of the third quarter. They cut it to nine with 5:32 to play, and it was down to four at 64-60 with 1:39 to play.

Darrius Grant paced the comeback with 17 fourth-quarter points on five 3-pointers and a 2-pointer. Often, his 3-pointers came from four or five feet from behind the
arc. He didn't score in the first three periods.

However, Sulligent's Caleb Massey made a free throw, and Logan Humbers followed with a 2-pointer to put the lead to 67-60 with 52 seconds left. The Chiefs never got closer than five after that.

"What you have to understand about Sulligent and R.A. Hubbard is that we eliminated them in the football playoffs," Chiefs coach Jack Steele said. "There was a revenge factor. They didn't want to just beat us but beat us as bad as they could."

Quinn McGhee paced R.A. Hubbard with 18 points and 10 rebounds. LeBrandon Key had 11 points, five rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

Humbers led Sulligent with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

"Hats off to them," Sulligent coach Tommy Chism said. "They got me scared with that comeback. We played great for a while but didn't finish it."

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