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Austin's Jay Sears (30) finished his final prep game with 20 points in a loss.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Austin's Jay Sears (30) finished his final prep game with 20 points in a loss.

Sears' performance can't save Austin

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

BIRMINGHAM — Jay Sears slowly walked off the court, hands on his hips, head staring at the ground.

There really wasn't much more he could do.

He scored 20 points. He grabbed 10 rebounds. He recorded four assists. He blocked a shot. He had a steal.

Yet, Austin still fell by double digits in the Class 6A semifinals, losing to Montgomery's Jeff Davis 84-65 in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Thursday.

Moments after the game, Sears wasn't ready to talk about his game, a double-double effort that came in an emotionally devastating loss for the senior and his team, which finished the season 19-14.

"It's been hard," Sears said. "I think we got the best team ever. It's just hard. I can't talk about it."

It's been a yearlong battle for Sears, the player teammate Verkeneo Mann labeled as the team's emotional leader.

The journey began in this same complex a year ago, against this same Jeff Davis team.

The Volunteers held Sears to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, and Austin lost 65-40.

"He kept fighting," Austin head coach Demond Garth said. "Last year down here wasn't his best game. He'll tell everybody that."

He kept fighting to the affect of averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game heading into the Final Four.

Thursday's game did nothing to taint Sears' final season in Austin orange.

"The last week in practice, he's been real focused," Garth said. "Doing whatever it takes. The thing about Jay, we have really challenged him as coaches. The thing about Sears, he has really stepped it up when he realized his coaching was making him better."

Sears made only one shot in the first quarter (he finished an alley-oop from Travis Cohn), and yet, Austin trailed by two points.

The Black Bears didn't need him to take over.

And then when they did, he stepped up.

"We expect that," sophomore forward Verkeneo Mann said. "That's being a senior. We expect games like this. We expect him to do what he do and step up and play."

Jeff Davis' Varez Ward said Sears' inside-outside game makes him hard to defend.

"You don't know whether he's going to go the basket or pull up for a jump shot," Ward said. "He had a great game tonight."

Time and again, Sears answered with a big shot of his. That's only natural when you're trying to will your team back from the abyss.

"I really wasn't trying to take over," Sears said. "I was just trying to get the best shot we could at least be in the game. I was scoring, but it wasn't enough."

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