AISA PLAYOFFS: Evangel Christian back in postseason
By Tim Gayle
There’s a different feeling around Evangel Christian Academy this week.
“It’s been, what five or six years?” Evangel coach Andy Whatley said. “These kids are excited, excited, excited. As coaches, you say that’s a tough team we’re playing but these kids see we’re in the playoffs and all we need is two wins to get to Troy. They certainly see it through some exciting lenses.”
The Lions (4-6) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, facing a daunting trip to Escambia Academy. Evangel had chances in the last three weeks to host a playoff game for the first time ever, but lost crucial region games with Cornerstone and Lakeside, the two host teams from Class AA Region 1.
“When we lost second place (by losing to Lakeside), I never got them up again,” Whatley said. “I tried every trick in the book – the exciting coach, the mean coach, the nasty coach, everything. Once they finished that (loss to Hooper), you could tell they said we messed that up, here we go with playoffs.”
In its 16-year history, Evangel Christian has made road playoff trips to Pickens in 2004, Patrician in 2005 and Clarke Prep in 2006. All three trips ended with lopsided losses.
Whatley, who has been coaching the Lions since 2012, has never made a trip to the playoffs with Evangel Christian but he did travel to Sumter for the first round of the playoffs in 2010 as the head coach at South Montgomery County Academy.
“Coaching wise, we’re doing a lot more different stuff as far as our approach, but the kids don’t see that,” Whatley said. “These are games where you tend to gamble more. It has a little fun element to it. If you’re that much of an underdog, you do have those liberties.”
Across the field will be veteran coach Hugh Fountain, who has trips to the playoffs with W.S. Neal and Charles Henderson in the past and has taken all five of his Escambia Academy teams to the playoffs, reaching the semifinals in 2013 and winning a state championship in 2014.
Fountain will be going after his 200th career victory tonight in Atmore.
“A lot of these teams we play, we’ll talk about it (as coaches) and say, ‘Here’s their threat,’” Whatley said. “This one, it’s like pick whatever, they’ve got four or five threats.”