Lifted – Calera boys are state champs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The four seniors on Calera’s boys basketball team began talking about a state championship around 1 p.m. last Thursday, as soon as they were let out of school to head to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex for the night’s 2A title game.

But for George Drake, Jason Adams, Trey Russell and Paul Delbridge, a title was something they had been chasing for four years.

&uot;We got together and everyone spoke what they had from their heart,&uot; Drake said. &uot;We knew that we were going to have to go out there and play because this was our last go-around and we were very determined.&uot;

Led by tournament-MVP Drake, Calera defeated Lanett 76-70 to win the school’s first basketball state championship since 1997 at last week’s AHSAA Final Four.

The finish was relieving and sweet for Drake and the Eagles (31-5), who had fallen short in the Class 2A state title game the past three seasons, falling to R.C. Hatch in 2004 and 2003, and Holy Family in 2002.

&uot;It’s about time,&uot;Eagles coach Robert Burdette sighed from a podium in the postgame interview.

&uot;I just think we had kids this year that were intent on finishing something that they had started years ago.&uot;

Calera quickly fell behind 4-0 to start the game, then scored eight unanswered points to spark a back-and-forth first quarter.

Trailing by one with less than a minute to play in the opening period, the Eagles went on a run to close the first quarter on top 23-17. They never gave up the lead the rest of the ballgame.

Drake scored 12 of his team-high 21 points during that first-period run. He finished with 11 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals.

Drake went to the bench near the beginning of the second quarter and Lanett cut the lead to two.

With less than two minutes remaining in the half Calera went on another run to pull away with a lead at the break, going on an 8-0 run capped by a T.J. Green basket at the buzzer.

Green finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. Russell scored 10 points for Calera with four rebounds and three assists.

Delbridge had 11 points and nine rebounds, and his physical play was a key factor in the lane for the Eagles.

&uot;The reason we played so good was because we knew -the four seniors that played – that it was our last game, so why not give it your all,&uot; Delbridge said.

The Panthers clawed back in the second half, narrowing the gap to four points twice in the final period.

&uot;We had been in this position so many times we just knew how to stay calm in certain situations,&uot; T.J. Green said. &uot;They made some big shots and we just stayed composed.

Lanett outscored Calera 20-15 in the fourth period, but the Eagles managed to hold on to the win thanks to some hustle-filled play in the final minutes. A George Drake dunk capped the Eagles’ championship run.

&uot;Give credit to Lanett,&uot; Burdette said. &uot;They punched us and punched us and punched us. They never gave up.&uot;

Calera 63, Pickens County 56: The Eagles advanced to the 2A title game behind 19 points each from T.J. Green and George Drake. Drake also had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots while Green had six steals. Trey Russell scored 10 points for Calera