Jags come up just short in state semis

Published 5:18 pm Thursday, March 3, 2016

Austin Wiley goes up for two points in Spain Park's 63-61 overtime loss to Central-Phenix City in the 7A Final Four on March 3. (Contributed / Ted Melton)

Austin Wiley goes up for two points in Spain Park’s 63-61 overtime loss to Central-Phenix City in the 7A Final Four on March 3. (Contributed / Ted Melton)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM – After falling behind by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, Spain Park battled back to force overtime before eventually losing to a Central-Phenix City team that has lost just once all season, 63-61.

“I’d like to congratulate Central-Phenix for the great game that they played,” Spain Park head coach Donnie Quinn said after the game. “Both teams are very similar in style, both have very good guards, both have big people around the goal and are hard to shoot over. I knew it going to be a (down to the) wire game. We had an opportunity to do it, but fell a little short. But Not for lack of work or a lack of trying or a lack of intensity.”

Spain Park came out of the gate a little sluggish, falling behind 12-4 in the early going. Central-Phenix City has quick, talented guards, and Tre’ Todd and Demarkus Lampley spearheaded the Red Devils to a 14-11 lead after the first.

From the jump, Central-Phenix was throwing two or three guys at Austin Wiley almost every trip down the court. Wiley is the most dominant post player Alabama, and still finished the first half with 12 points and 9 boards, but had to work for everything he got down low. After a back-and-forth second quarter, the Jaguars went into the half up 25-24.

Jamal Johnson, Spain Park’s motor and point guard, did not have a stellar first half. He finished the first half with four points on 2-of-8 shooting and had five turnovers as well. In the second half, however, the junior guard showcased his ability. After scoring five quick points in the third, Johnson drew his fourth foul with 2:52 left in the third and the game tied 32-32. From that point, the Red Devils closed the quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 42-34 lead heading into the final quarter, with Johnson on the bench for most of the final three minutes.

Wiley hit the ground early in the fourth after coming down on a Central-Phenix City player’s foot, seemingly twisting his ankle in the process, which was a scary moment for Spain Park as the big man writhed on the floor in obvious pain. He popped up not long after, but as the fourth quarter progressed, it was obvious his ankle was bothering him. He had to exit the game late in order to get taped, and couldn’t maneuver like he wanted as the game wore down.

“It’s pretty sore now,” Wiley said after the game. “When I came out to get it taped, it was pretty swollen. It’s pretty sore right now.”

It was Johnson who pulled Spain Park back from the brink in the fourth. Down by 10 points, Johnson went to work, scoring eight straight points before picking the pocket of Tionne Williams and feeding Wiley for an easy bucket to tie the game at 46-46 with 5:28 left in the quarter.

“Jamal runs our team,” Quinn said of Johnson playing the fourth quarter with four fouls. “When he’s out of there, we lose a little bit of that. I had to make that decision, if we don’t leave him out there then we not even be close in the game. So it was a matter of making that decision, trying to keep him out as long as I can, but then we had to get him in there and just trust him not to pick one up.”

After Spain Park tied the game at 46-46, the Jags pulled ahead 52-46, good for an 18-4 run, before the Red Devils scored again. The last four minutes were tight, and Lampley missed a shot at the buzzer, which sent the game to overtime, 54-54.

Wiley did not start the overtime period, as he was getting his ankle taped. In his absence, Williams immediately went to the basket, scored, and drew a foul. He hit the free throw, and the Red Devils were up 57-54. Even on his bum ankle, Wiley still was a load to handle, scoring four straight points after checking in to give Spain Park the ball back. A Justin Brown layup extended Spain Park’s lead to 60-57 before the teams started trading free throws.

Keiondre Jakes hit a layup before Lampley went 1-for-2 from the line to tie the game at 60. From that point on, with 1:02 left in overtime, Spain Park and Central-Phenix City went a combined 2-for-8 from the line, with Central-Phenix going 1-for-6 in the final minute. However, it proved to be just enough, as the Jags turned it over twice late and, after Jakes finally hit a free throw to put the Red Devils up 63-61 with under 10 seconds to play, Wiley’s equalizer was denied at the buzzer, as were Spain Park’s title chances.

Johnson finished with a game-high 20 points and also grabbed nine rebounds while Wiley finished with 19 points and 13 boards and Brown, in his final high school game, had 15 and 10. Each of the three scored more points than any single Red Devil player.

Spain Park finished the season with a 23-10 record.