Calera’s exciting season comes to an end in the Elite 8
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
MONTGOMERY – Darian Garrett, who hit a 3-pointer with .6 seconds left on the clock in the Sweet 16 to advance the Sylacauga Aggies to the Elite Eight, took any hopes the Calera Eagles had of making it to the Final Four in 2018 and squashed them when he hit a crucial 3-pointer for the second game in a row with 1:35 left in the game to put his team up 61-54.
While the deficit was still manageable for Calera at the time it didn’t feel like an attainable goal as Sylacauga was in the midst of a 32-14 run and was controlling the game.
Despite not giving up over the final 1:35 of the game, Sylacauga went on to finish off the game over the final minute to claim the Region championship by a final score of 70-65 to advance to the Final Four.
Calera looked like the better team through the first 18 minutes of the 32-minute game, but Sylacauga went on a 41-25 run to end the final 14:12 to play after trailing 40-29 with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
As has become the usual with the most fun show in basketball this season, Calera sprinted out of the start gate with a 14-4 run in the first few minutes of the game.
The Eagles eventually took a 22-13 lead and held a 22-15 advantage at the end of the quarter thanks in large part to outrebounding the Aggies 15-6 in the period, including a 4-2 advantage on the offensive end.
It looked like the team that had combined to score 363 points in their last three games coming into the Elite Eight.
In the second quarter, Sylacauga started tightening up on both ends of the floor and it led to 9-0 run to start the quarter as they eventually tied the game at 22-22.
The two teams battled back and forth over the next few minutes, including Sylacauga taking its first lead since 2-0 at 27-26, but the Eagles were able to bounce back with an 8-2 run to end the quarter to take a 34-29 lead into the half.
Calera continued that run out of the halftime break, eventually extending it to 14-2 after starting the third quarter on a 6-0 run.
That’s when the Aggies flipped into overdrive and it started with a 17-6 run to end the third period, which gave them a one-point 46-45 lead with one quarter to decide which team would advance to the Final Four.
Kevin Dowdell started the scoring in the final quarter with two free throws to give the Eagles back the lead at 47-46, but it was the last lead Calera saw for the remainder of the night.
Calera cut the deficit to as little as four points at 58-54 with just over two minutes left in the contest after C.J. Smith hit two free throws.
It seemed as if the Eagles had regained some momentum offensively and were starting to settle down instead of panic, but you got the sense of how big a stop on the ensuing Sylacauga possession would be.
That’s when Garrett caught a ball in the right corner, pulled up and drained the key 3-pointer to put the Aggies back on top by seven points with just over a minute left.
Garrett also went on to knock down 7-8 free throws in the final minute of the game after hitting that deep bomb to keep the Eagles at a distance.
That gave Garrett 11 of his 23 points in the final 1:35 of the game to help seal the deal and propel Sylacauga into the Final Four.
On paper the game was fairly even as Calera held an edge on the boards outrebounding the Aggies 44-35 and each team tied in turnovers with 11, but from the field the Eagles shot 43.9 percent to Sylacauga’s 47.1 percent.
Calera also hit four less 3-pointers and three less free throws than the Aggies.
The Eagles did end up with four players in double figures led by a double-double performance from Jacob Smith, who posted 14 points and 18 rebounds.
C.J. Smith had 19 points and five rebounds, Cornelius Brown had 13 points and five rebounds, and Kevin Dowdell had 12 points and three steals. Tyler Millin dealt with foul trouble and ended the game with just five points and four rebounds as his presence would have made a huge difference.
While it’s a heartbreaking ending to an extremely fun season for Calera, this year’s team has quite possibly changed the Eagles’ basketball program for the foreseeable future.
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com