Oak Mountain headed to Elite Eight

Published 3:35 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

Oak Mountain’s Warren Shader fires a pass up court during the Eagles’ Feb. 19 Northwest regional semifinal game against Sparkman. (Reporter Photo / Baker Ellis)

Oak Mountain’s Warren Shader fires a pass up court during the Eagles’ Feb. 19 Northwest regional semifinal game against Sparkman. (Reporter Photo / Baker Ellis)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

HANCEVILLE – Oak Mountain ended the 2014-15 basketball season with an 8-20 record. The Eagles never really got going last season, and were knocked out of the 7A Area 5 tournament in the first round by eventual 7A champion Hoover. Coming into the 2015-16 season, everyone around the program expected an uptick in production, but it’s hard to imagine anyone thought the turnaround would be this drastic this fast. On Feb. 19, Oak Mountain knocked off a talented Sparkman team by a final of 43-40 to advance to the second Elite Eight in school history.

This is a great group of guys, they deserve this,” Oak Mountain head coach Chris Love said after the game. “They work their butts off and I just enjoy being around them.”

The game itself lacked offense for most of the first half. Oak Mountain big man Payton Youngblood missed a few inside buckets he usually connects on, and shots just in general were not falling early as both teams figured each other out. The lone offensive bright spot in the early going was Yeadon Patrick, who had all seven of his points in the first quarter off a pair of inside buckets and a three. Patrick’s offense provided the shot in the arm Oak Mountain needed early, and the Eagles led 11-5 after the first quarter.

Sparkman made a small run in the second, but two threes from Wyatt Armstrong, from the exact same spot, kept Oak Mountain in front. When Gabe Haynes fired a pass into the belly of the Senators defense with less than 20 seconds to go in the half, it found Warren Shader seemingly by accident, who connected for an easy bucket to put the Eagles up 20-13 headed into the half.

Sparkman closed the gap in the third. The Senators switched defenses from primarily a man-to-man look to a 1-3-1 half court defense that affected Oak Mountain for a time. They closed the gap to just a single point at 26-25 before Shader made one of the plays of his basketball career. Youngblood misfired from deep, but Shader collected the miss and tossed up a circus shot that went in, and drew a foul for emphasis. He hit his foul shot before Noah Egan connected from deep to push the Oak Mountain lead back to 32-25 entering the fourth.

In the fourth, Sparkman’s Maurice Anderson began to assert himself. Anderson scored the first nine points of the quarter for Sparkman as the Senators pulled even at 32, the first tie since 0-0. When JP Fletcher hit a three falling down, the Senators took the lead for the first time all day at 37-36, and with less than a minute to play, the Eagles trailed 40-38.

With the season potentially on the line, Oak Mountain worked the ball around the perimeter before Haynes found Armstrong on the perimeter. Armstrong took the pass, gathered himself, and hit the biggest shot of his career, putting the Eagles up 41-40.

On the other end of the floor, Armstrong got a piece of Sparkman’s three-point attempt with under five seconds to play, and when Youngblood hit a pair of free throws late, the Eagles wrapped the game up with the 43-40 win.

Oak Mountain didn’t have a single player in double figures in the game, which is a perfect snapshot into the Eagles’ season. Armstrong and Youngblood both had nine, while Patrick and Shader each added seven to lead the Eagles.

Oak Mountain moved to 25-7, and will play Hoover for a spot in the 7A Final Four on Tuesday at Wallace State at 2:15.