Eagles fall to Hoover in area championship game

By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor

HOOVER — Oak Mountain High School girls’ basketball coach Donald Clayton questioned his team’s ability to make a run at the postseason after suffering season-ending injuries to leading scorers Lay Watts and Julia Ferguson during the regular season.

Clayton never doubted the talent stepping up in their place. He simply worried about the newcomers’ inexperience.

“I know this team and all of the pieces we have,” Clayton said. “It just took us a few weeks to realize we were capable.”

A group consisting of four first-time starters put Clayton’s concerns to rest by defeating Thompson for the third time this season in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A, Area 10 tournament. Despite a 67-20 loss to defending Class 6A champion Hoover on the Buccaneers’ home floor Feb. 12 in the Class 6A, Area 10 title game, the Eagles will make their third appearance in the sub-region round of the Class 6A playoffs in the past five years.

Oak Mountain will travel to Vestavia Hills in the sub-region round of the Class 6A playoffs Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.

The Eagles, who lost 12 of 13 members of the winningest team in school history from last season, are making their second consecutive playoff appearance.

“We’ve been in a killer area the past few years,” Clayton said. “It’s something we’re very proud of.”

Madison Pierce led the Eagles (18-10) with eight points on 3-of-5 field goals in the Class 6A, Area 10 championship game.

Clayton praised Pierce for stepping up in the post this season with Watts and Ferguson out of the lineup.

“Madison already had so many intangibles,” Clayton said. “It was only  a matter of time. I’m proud of how far she’s come so quickly.”

Mackenzie Garmany added seven points. Kaitlin West chipped in three points. Bailey Upchurch finished with two points.

Hannah Griffin and M.K. Shealy, the only returning member of the varsity team, were named to the Class 6A, Area 10 all-tournament team. Meagen McDanal and Tahj Samuels played in the area championship game but did not score.

The Eagles struggled with the Bucs’ defensive pressure in the title game.

Hoover jumped out to a 16-5 lead after the opening quarter. Oak Mountain knocked down 9-of-10 free throws in the opening half to keep the game manageable at 30-11 heading into the locker room at halftime.

However, the Bucs began the second half with a 7-0 run and coasted to victory down the stretch.

Oak Mountain, which split two regular season meetings with Vestavia Hills, defeated the Rebels 41-39 on the road in December and led their sub-region opponent late in the third quarter in the second game between the two teams in late January.

Clayton is optimistic, but he said the Eagles will face a difficult test in the sub-region contest.

“They’ve gotten so much better during the season,” Clayton said.