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Sophomore’s buzzer shot saves Red Raiders

By Brooke Milam · 340-2460

The Decatur High boys basketball team had a completely different look when it took the floor against Hartselle on Saturday night in its home opener.

The fresh-faced Red Raiders, who graduated nine seniors, including all five starters off last year’s Final Four squad, faced an equally youthful Hartselle squad that graduated all of its starters from a 20-win team last season. In the end, Decatur’s youth won out in a 43-41 victory at Earl Morris Gymnasium.

In the girls game, Hartselle won 49-46.

Decatur boys coach Jamie Lee said he knew his players were nervous because of inexperience on the varsity stage.

“I wanted to see guys that would execute what they’d been coached on for the past four weeks regardless of their age,” Lee said. “I actually think our guys were confident because they wanted to prove to people that, ‘Hey, we lost all those guys and were young, but we can still play.’ ”

With the score tied at 41 and Hartselle trying to drive the floor for a last-second shot attempt, Decatur sophomore William Johnson — the cousin of former Red Raiders star Rico Pickett, now playing for Alabama — found a tipped ball near the Red Raiders’ basketball and hurled it toward the goal from three feet away.

It fell in the basket as the buzzer sounded, and Decatur fans stormed the court.

“We were lucky enough to get that tip, and William threw it in,” Lee said. “Sometimes you’ve got to have those lucky shots go in.”

Decatur (1-0) was not only without last year’s senior stars, but also playing without eight others who are still involved with football, as the Red Raiders’ football team is still alive in the Class 5A state playoffs.

Johnson led Decatur with 21 points, three rebounds and four steals, while junior Miles Stevenson had 10 points and two rebounds.

Hartselle senior Alex Brown led the Tigers with 15 points, two rebounds and two steals, while Manquez Jones followed with 11 points and two steals.

Hartselle (2-1) won its first two contests of the season before falling to Decatur, and Tigers coach Johnny Berry said his team’s defensive intensity was not to the level it had been in two wins.

“We just didn’t get the steals we’d been getting and didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to make the plays we’ve been making,” Berry said.

Hartselle led 12-6 after the first quarter and 21-17 at halftime.

The two teams tied it three times in the third quarter before Decatur’s Carter Lyle tossed in a put-back that tied the score at 29 heading into the fourth period.

It was tied four more times in the fourth before Johnson broke the tie at the buzzer.

Stevenson sank two free throws with 45 seconds remaining to give Decatur a 41-38 advantage. Hartselle looked for an open 3-pointer for Brown and found it with 17 seconds left, tying the score at 41.

Johnson drove the lane trying for the winning shot, but missed, and after Hartselle grabbed the rebound and attempted to drive the floor, an errant pass was swatted in Johnson’s direction.

Johnson’s final shot fell as the buzzer sounded.

“I knew it was a big challenge, and obviously we have a million things we need to work on, but I was proud of them tonight — extremely proud,” Lee said.

Berry said his team also took plenty from the game.

“One thing we said in the locker room is that it’s just Nov. 17th, and these are the games you learn from,” Berry said. “It helps you down the line.”

Hartselle girls 49, Decatur 46: The Hartselle Lady Tigers led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, but couldn’t put away host Decatur in a contest that came down to the final seconds.

“As a first-game effort, I thought we did pretty well,” Decatur coach Brad Boy said. “Everybody in that gym knows we laid it on the line tonight, and what my girls need to understand is (Hartselle) is a good ball team with a couple of girls who were playing in Birmingham at the Final Four a few months ago. We did some good things tonight.”

Hartselle (3-0) returned seniors Anna Reeves and Jessi Smith as starters from the Lady Tigers’ state semifinal squad last season, and coach Greg Adams said his players were impressed with Decatur’s speed as the Lady Tigers battled through 31 turnovers.

“We’ve got to handle the ball better than that and credit their defense with that,” Adams said.

Foul trouble hurt Decatur’s depth off the bench, but Boy said it’s one of the many early mistakes that the Lady Red Raiders will be able to fix.

“As they learn this defense better, they will learn to take better angles and get out of that foul trouble,” Boy said.

Still, Decatur (0-1) had a chance to win it late.

Hartselle led 13-11 after the first quarter and had a 27-19 at halftime.

But the Lady Red Raiders hung close enough to tie the game at 27 in the third period. Quita Lyle’s 3-pointer and a free throw by Sally Adams gave Decatur a 31-27 lead with 2:26 left in the third.

The Lady Red Raiders led 34-32 heading into the fourth quarter. Alex Holmes gave Hartselle another lead at 45-44 with 2:31 and Decatur stayed within a point at 47-46 after a basket by sophomore Britney McCloud with 52 seconds left.

Smith sank free throws with 12 seconds remaining for the final margin.

McCloud led Decatur with 20 points, five rebounds and five steals. Whitney Fletcher contributed 10 points, four rebounds and six steals.

Reeves delivered 15 points, including three 3-pointers to lead the Lady Tigers’ scoring. Holmes added 11 points, 10 rebounds with four steals.

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