Photos by Ted Melton/ ActionSportsPix.SmugMug.com
Spain Park Basketball
Action from a game between Spain Park and Mountain Brook on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, at Mountain Brook High School in Mountain Brook, Alabama.
Spain Park boys basketball coach Donnie Quinn had seen enough, but at the same time, he didn't see anything.
The 18-point lead his Jaguars built in the second quarter had evaporated entirely.
Quinn called timeout.
In the huddle, he looked his team in the eye and issued a challenge. He told his players that they were being "soft," thus living up to Spain Park's reputation as viewed by the visiting bleacher.
"I said, 'Either we're going to fight for this, or we're just going to give in and cave," Quinn said.
Apparently, he struck a chord. It made the difference.
In front of an electric home crowd that was decked out in jerseys and constant in chants, the Jaguars (12-13) finished what they started by holding off crosstown rival Hoover (24-6) on Friday night, 67-63. Spain Park closed the game on a 9-4 run after falling behind 60-58 with 2:19 remaining.
"It was just a great team win," said Jags senior Jamal Johnson. "We played good together, and we just fought hard, played as a team, jelled together and just got the dub for the last game."
Johnson, a Memphis signee, showed up and showed out in the final home tilt of his high school career. He scored a game-high 29 points, including nine in the pivotal fourth quarter.
"He played a pretty phenomenal game today," Quinn said.
Johnson gave the home fans many things to buzz about, as he lit up the scoreboard in almost every way imaginable. There were NBA-range 3s, acrobatic layups and even an alley-oop. All were made possible by Johnson's vertical leap, which at times seemed to defy gravity.
But Jamari Blackmon, Marion Humphrey and Ahman Ellington brought him back to earth. The Hoover trio accounted for the bulk of the Bucs' baskets and keyed the team's unexpected comeback.
Hoover fell behind 10-0 in the opening minutes of the first quarter and spent the majority of the game playing catch up. The biggest deficit it faced came midway through the second quarter, when Spain Park's Justice Canady rolled in a layup that gave the Jags a 32-14 lead.
Undeterred, Hoover began to chip away. The Bucs trailed by 11 at halftime, 40-29, and by only six at the end of the third quarter, 52-46.
Hoover got off to a fast start in the final quarter, outscoring Spain Park 12-6. Blackmon, a junior, drilled a 3 from the left corner with about 3:25 remaining to knot the score at 58-58. It was the first time all game Hoover didn't trail. Humphrey then made two free throws on the following possession.
The score: Hoover 60, Spain Park 58.
That's when Quinn issued his challenge.
"He just told us to stay focused and fight," Johnson said of Quinn. "He said, 'Whoever fights the hardest is going to win this game.'"
And fight they did. Xavier Blanchard poured in four straight points, Johnson scored the next four, and Parker Boswell hit one final free throw. Blanchard finished the game with 15 points; Boswell finished with 13.
Plagued by missed shots, Hoover didn't have an answer.
The win was Spain Park's third over a team ranked among the state's top five. The Jags knocked off then-Class 7A No. 3 Huffman Jan. 14 and then-7A No.1 Mountain Brook Jan. 18.
Hoover entered Friday's contest as 7A No.2.
"If we play hard, we've got a lot of potential to do some great things," Johnson said.
Spain Park will return to action Saturday at the Border Wars Tournament, which will be hosted by Mountain Brook. Hoover will have almost a full week to prepare for its Thursday game against Tuscaloosa County in the opening round of the 7A, Area 5 tournament, which the Bucs will host.
Lady Bucs pull away for big victory
Class 7A No.2 Hoover (23-7) didn't do anything spectacular in Friday night's 66-40 win over 7A No. 6 Spain Park (19-10). It just played solid, fundamental basketball, and it worked.
Effective rebounding, penetration in the paint and on-target shooting enabled the Bucs to pull away from their crosstown rival midway through the third quarter. The Bucs led 30-22 at halftime and 49-32 entering the final period.
Hoover's full-court press disrupted the Jags' offensive rhythm and created a flurry of turnovers, especially late in the game. Cold shooting ailed Spain Park most of the night.
The Bucs' Eboni Williams scored a team-high 16 points; Joiya Maddox scored 15, nine of which came on a trio of 3s. Spain Park's Claire Holt recorded a game-high 18 points.
Hoover and Spain Park will return to the hardwood on Wednesday, when each school will play the first game of its area tournament. Hoover will host Vestavia Hills to kick off the 7A, Area 5 tournament, and Spain Park will host Mountain Brook to begin the 7A, Area 6 tournament.