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Tanner's Demarcus King couldn't look at the scoreboard late in the Rattlers' 74-73 loss to R.C. Hatch in the Class 2A semifinals in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tanner's Demarcus King couldn't look at the scoreboard late in the Rattlers' 74-73 loss to R.C. Hatch in the Class 2A semifinals in Birmingham on Tuesday.

Tanner bows out of Final Four for fourth time

By Mark Edwards 340-2461

BIRMINGHAM — For the fourth time in 11 years, Tanner High's boys basketball team earned a trip to the Class 2A Final Four.

For the fourth time in 11 years, Tanner headed home without a state championship, and that bothers the Rattlers.

They rocked and rattled defending state champion R.C. Hatch in the 2A semifinals Tuesday, but couldn't take down the Bobcats. R.C. Hatch slipped away with a 74-73 win at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, despite Tanner holding an eight-point lead heading into the final period.

R.C. Hatch (24-4) will face Barbour County (31-5) in Thursday's finals at 6 p.m. Barbour County defeated Ranburne 80-53 in the other semifinal contest.

"Getting here isn't quite enough anymore," Tanner coach Chris Whitt said. "We wanted to win it."

And Tanner nearly did, at least in the semifinals against the odds-on favorite to win the 2A title. The Rattlers (27-6) led much of the third quarter and for about half the fourth.

With about two minutes left, the two teams stood tied at 64, but R.C. Hatch's Frankie Sullivan followed with a basket, and the Bobcats held a slim lead the rest of the way.

This game marked a striking difference from their 2003 meeting in the state semifinals, which R.C. Hatch dominated and won 78-50.

"It's almost easier to lose by 30 than it is by one point," Whitt said.

Two factors played into the Rattlers' loss Tuesday — R.C. Hatch's defensive switch in the fourth quarter, and Tanner point guard and senior leader Rod Byrd getting into foul trouble early in the final period.

At the start of the fourth quarter, R.C. Hatch coach Homer Davis Jr. put his Bobcats into an aggressive man-to-man defense.

"We knew we wanted to go to the man-to-man soon, but we didn't want to have foul trouble," Davis said.

The aggressive defense wound up creating Tanner turnovers instead of R.C. Hatch fouls. The Bobcats forced seven turnovers in the fourth quarter alone.

It didn't help that the Rattlers' primary ball-handler, Byrd, got whistled for his fourth foul with 7:13 to play. He went out with Tanner holding a six-point lead at 54-48 and returned two minutes later with the score tied at 58.

Byrd finished with eight points, nine rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. Teammate Richard Nasseri finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Latraius Mosley had 21 points, six rebounds and three steals, and Demarcus King added 20 points, including six in the final minute on a pair of 3-pointers.

They provided the offensive punch as Tanner rallied from an early hole. R.C. Hatch built a 21-11 lead by the end of the first period, but Tanner had a 32-31 advantage at halftime. Nasseri scored nine points in the second quarter.

Whitt switched his Rattlers out of a zone and into a trapping defense right before the comeback, even though R.C. Hatch appeared to have too much speed and ball-handling to make the trap work.

"We use the trap, and it's been good for us," Whitt said. "But I never envisioned that it work like that against them. The trap got us back into the game."

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