Macon East sweeps regional tourney
By Tim Gayle
CECIL - It was the championship game of the AISA Class AA Region 1 tournament, but it could just as easily be a preview of the weekend’s Class AA state championship game at the Cramton Bowl Multiplex.
Macon East Academy improved to 30-0 with a 66-53 win over Autauga in the Macon East gym, their second hard-fought win over the Generals this season.
“They’re the best overall team we’ve played so far,” said Macon East junior point guard Kyle Edwards.
When the Generals turned up the pressure, Edwards was at his best, helping the Knights run out to a 21-10 lead in the first quarter with good ball distribution and holding off the Generals in the fourth quarter with some timely free throw shooting.
“He’s been the heartbeat of this team,” Macon East coach Larry Chapman said. “He’s been amazing.”
Edwards was named the most valuable player of the tournament, a crowning achievement in a storybook season where others often grab the headlines. That’s by design, Chapman said, as he told the story of a player that was at LAMP last year before transferring to Macon East for the 2016-17 season.
Edwards said it was Macon East assistant coach Lincoln Glass, the school’s development director, that convinced him to attend Macon East.
“I used to train with Coach Glass when I went to LAMP,” he explained. “When my grades went down a little bit – they didn’t go down to where I got kicked out (of LAMP) – but I needed to get my GPA up to go to college and Coach Glass was coaching over here.”
Before Chapman gave the OK, the former Auburn University Montgomery head coach talked to his former assistant, Nigel Card, the head coach at LAMP’s rival, St. James, and former player Marcus Townsend, LAMP’s head coach.
“Nigel told me that nobody could stay in front of him,” Chapman said, “and Marcus Townsend told me how good he was as a kid. It took me a while to realize how pure he is. He is a pure, pure basketball player but he’d rather give a teammate a shot than take one. Some people just have it. They have that ‘it’ factor. Don’t ask me how, but he just has it.”
Autauga (21-4) found out the hard way, losing to Edwards and the Knights for the second time this season. Edwards had eight points off of the fastbreak in the first quarter and closed out his 21-point evening with three free throws in the fourth quarter as Autauga trimmed the deficit to eight points.
“I just tried to play defense,” Edwards said. “We got turnovers and I ran out and got a couple of layups.”
Slate Garmany added 14 points for Macon East, followed by Logan Goree with 12 and Tavis Billups with 11. The Knights open play in the state tournament on Wednesday, followed by a game on Friday at 1:30 p.m., provided they win. A win in the semifinals would send them to Saturday’s championship game at 7:30 p.m., which could prove to be a rematch of the region championship game.
“We’re playing with a target on our back right now,” Edwards said. “We just have to keep defending because if the shots aren’t falling, the defense will travel with us.”
Macon East girls win regional
There are two constants in every Macon East Academy game these days.
One is a defense that has learned to play together, creating offense through a transition game that has the Lady Knights playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
The other is Madisyn Kennedy’s ability to score. The sophomore scored at least six points in every quarter on Saturday night to help Macon East to a 55-39 win over Lowndes Academy in the championship game of the AISA Class AA Region 1 tournament at Macon East.
“She’s a mismatch because she’s really an inside player we moved to wing this year,” Macon East coach Glynn Lott said. “She shoots the ball so well from the outside but if you come out and guard her she can put it on the floor. Having somebody who can do that is different. Her and Bailey Williams both put it on the floor (and drive to the basket) well when they have to.”
For Macon East, 14-9, the win meant a return to the state tournament. Last year, Macon East reached the semifinals before losing; this year, it will take a Wednesday morning win in the Elite Eight to return to the semifinals at noon on Friday.
“I think this year no one actually thought we could make it this far,” Kennedy said. “We’re just proving people wrong. Last year, we knew we were good. This year, we lost four starters so we’re like, we’re just going to prove them wrong, we’re going to win.”
And while they still had their share of doubters at the beginning of the month, they finished January with a strong showing, routing Coosa Valley in the region semifinals, then jumping out to a 12-3 lead over Lowndes before weathering a fierce rally, then putting away the Rebels with strong defense.
“I knew after halftime they were going to come out fighting even more because most teams do,” Kennedy said. “But we’re getting better every game. Last night’s game (against Coosa Valley) was the best game we’ve ever played defensively and this game we played good defense, too. We weren’t as great a defense at the beginning of the year.”
The Rebels would trim the deficit to three points in the second half. Lott and the Knights responded by putting the ball in Kennedy’s hands as she scored 10 of her 29 points in the final quarter.
“I think we are playing our best,” Lott said. “We played great defense (against Coosa Valley) and for most of the game tonight. We had that little lull in the third quarter and they made their run. I told our girls that was the difference in the game. We responded to that.”