Back in the Saddle: Calera Eagles prepare for Final Four

Since its inception in 1994, the Final Four at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center has seen a familiar face in Calera High School.

The Eagles have been to the Final Four more times since ’94 than any other team in any other classification of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

Six, to be exact.

From 1996-2000, the Calera boys team coached by Robert Burdette made five straight trips to the BJCC.

Following a one-year hiatus in 2001, the Eagles are back in the driver’s seat in the Class 2A Final Four.

Calera (26-7) played Geraldine (30-5) in the first round of the Final Four Tuesday night. Results were not available at presstime.

Joining Calera and Geraldine in the Class 2A Final Four are defending state champion Barbour County (20-1) and Holy Family (22-4).

Barbour County and Holy Family played Tuesday night at 8:30. The winners will meet in the state finals Thursday night at 8 p.m.

Burdette said prior to his team’s matchup with Geraldine that the game would be a contest between two totally different teams.

&uot;They like to play a half-court game, and they don’t run or press a lot,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;They have a lot of good shooters, and they can fill it up from behind the three-point line. They have one guy, Corey Bryant, who is up for Class 2A Player of the Year, and he averages about 23 points per game. We will have to try to stop him, but they have four or five who can score in double figures.&uot;

Burdette said, in contrast, his team will play more of a run-and-gun type offense.

&uot;We will try to run and get transition points,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;That’s how we play and that’s what got us here.&uot;

The Eagles made it to the Final Four by winning the Southwest regional tournament at the University of South Alabama in Mobile last week. Calera defeated Red Level 76-60 in the first round and R.C. Hatch 80-73 in the regional finals.

Burdette said the trip to Mobile was tiring, but his team is focuses on the goal at hand.

&uot;Going that far is always going to be a little rough, but we are focused and these kids are hungry for a championship,&uot; Burdette said.

Freshman George Drake led the eagles to the victory over Red Level with 21 points, while senior Dusty Downs scored 17. Freshman Joey Cameron had 13 and Roger Moore scored 12 points.

&uot;(Red Level) likes to play a zone defense,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;That’s what they have done most of the year. We knew we needed to get transition points, and we were able to do that. We knew we needed to get some easy baskets and not make very many turnovers. We did a nice job of that, but they did, too.&uot;

At the end of the first half, the score was knotted at 28, and, according to Burdette, he told his team to pick up the intensity in the second half.

&uot;We picked it up defensively when we came out of the locker room for the second half,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;We played intense and caused a lot of turnovers with our pressure defense.&uot;

Drake led a determined Eagle run in the third quarter, scoring 14 of Calera’s 18 points in that stanza.

&uot;George (Drake) did a great job for us in the third quarter,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;He was basically our entire offense.&uot;

Calera then went on a tear in the final period, outscoring Red Level 30-19 to claim the 16-point win.

&uot;(Red Level) began to wear down in the fourth quarter, and we just took advantage of that,&uot; Burdette said.

Calera’s freshman phenoms, Drake and Cameron, led the Eagles to a 80-73 regional championship win against R.C Hatch with a combined 39 points.

According to Burdette, the future is bright.

&uot;It’s great to look back at the stat sheets and see that two freshmen just led you in scoring in a regional championship game,&uot; Burdette said.

Burdette said, however, that the play of his guards in both games is what led his team to the Final Four.

&uot;Our guards really took care of the ball in both games, and that’s the reason we won,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;They didn’t make very many mistakes and did not have many turnovers.&uot;

Cameron led the Eagles with 20 points in the win while Drake scored 19.

Downs hit double digits again with 12 points in the championship and Moore chipped in 11