Catholic boys, girls one step away from Birmingham
By Tim Gayle
The Montgomery Catholic boys struggled to find any rhythm in their 44-43 win over Escambia County High in the 3A South Regional in Dothan on Saturday, but there was one consistent force behind the Knights.
Point guard B.J. Barker scored 18 points, including a pair of crucial free throws with 11.9 seconds left that allowed the Knights to advance to their first regional final since 2001.
“We came in there jittery and nervous and it showed early,” Catholic coach Robb McGaughey said. “When we finally settled down, we made a game out of it. For our guys, first time being there, it was an adjustment that had to be made.
“I kind of have the feeling that in this next game, hopefully, the pressure might be off their shoulders and they can just play and have a good time.”
Catholic (21-9) will play defending South Regional champion Monroe County (21-4)on Wednesday at 10:45 a.m. McGaughey is hoping his inside duo of Garrett Cook and Charlie Ryan will take charge of the region final.
“Our inside game hasn’t been there like I want it to be, but I think part of that is teams have scouted us and are trying to take that away,” he said. “We haven’t adjusted to it like we need to.”
The Knights may have the services of freshman D.J. Carter, a key contributor off of the bench who missed Saturday’s game after spraining his ankle in an earlier practice at Providence Christian.
“It was just a freak thing, too,” McGaughey said. “He turned it on a layup where no one was even guarding him. I think he’ll be back. It affected us a little in the last game because he’s an energy guy, a very good defensive player and I think we missed that a little bit.”
Catholic is chasing history, trying to earn their first trip back to Birmingham for the state tournament since winning back-to-back 2A titles in 1999 and 2000, but the 2017 squad has already made history by being the first Catholic boys team to go undefeated in Capital City Conference play.
“I was happy for them on Saturday because it is a big deal to make it this far,” McGaughey said.
The Catholic girls (26-3) set a school record for wins after Saturday’s 47-33 win over Monroe County, but now face a different type of challenge in Area 4 rival BTW Magnet, a team that lost to Catholic 51-39 and 58-37 during the regular season and 38-37 in the area tournament championship game.
“I guess it’s a good and a bad situation,” Catholic coach Jill Clark said. “We kind of know what they’re going to do but they know what you’re going to do. It’s just a matter of execution at this point.
“I didn’t feel like the last time we played well, but I give them credit because they did. We’ve got to realize we’ve got to tighten up because it was a very close game last time. We’ve got to bring it. It’s a physical game. We’ve got to know that (pressure) is coming and we’ve got to handle it.”
The Knights jumped out to an 8-0 lead against Monroe County and had an 11-point lead at halftime before Monroe County scored nine consecutive points in the third quarter to draw within five. Catholic responded with 13 unanswered points to take command of the game with limited play from Iyana Tate, who had sprained her ankle in pre-game warmups while attempting to knock loose a pair of basketballs caught in the net.
“I look up at the clock and there’s four minutes left in warmups and she’s hobbling,” Clark said. “She said she came down on somebody’s foot while she was knocking the balls out and I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ She gutted it out. She did what she had to do.
“She’ll probably be hobbling (on Wednesday), but she’s doing everything she can to get back. She’s a senior, she doesn’t want to miss her time. We’ve fought too hard to get to this point.”
With Tate limited, the Knights were rescued by Jessie Clark, who had 16 points in the first half and finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
“She’s one of those kids that would just as soon pass the ball,” Clark said. “But everybody’s like that. Sometimes, they drive me crazy because I’m (telling them) you’re going to risk a pass that we have to catch and put up when you had the same shot over here. But there’s not a kid on that team that’s worried about scoring points. They just want to win.”