Thompson headed to Regionals for first time since 2013

Published 9:10 pm Thursday, February 7, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

HOOVER – The Thompson Warriors won one game a year ago.

Let that sink, before digesting that the Warriors just won their 21st game to clinch a spot in the Regional round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013 thanks to a 58-51 victory against county foe Oak Mountain in the first round of the area tournament in the first year of head coach Dru Powell’s tenure.

It didn’t come easy with both local teams’ seasons on the line, as the Warriors fell behind early and had to stave off a comeback late, but thanks to eight consecutive made free throws in the final 1:30 of the game, Thompson was able to pull off the victory.

The Warriors led by 12 points entering the final quarter of the game at 41-29, and held a 10-point lead with a little less than five minutes to play in the game.

But with its season on the line, Oak Mountain wasn’t going to pack their bags and leave the gym.

Down 47-37, the Eagles got a basket from Noah Young and a 3-pointer from Drew Dunn to quickly cut the deficit to five points midway through the quarter.

Thompson answered back, however, by draining three consecutive free throws from Tre Roberson and Chaney Johnson to go back up by eight points with three minutes remaining.

Then junior Zane Nelson, who had a monster game and did the bulk of Oak Mountain’s scoring, found his rhythm again after going cold for the third quarter.

Nelson hit two free throws and a layup to bring his team to within four points with 2:30 to play. That was followed by a monster 3-pointer from freshman Evan Smith in the corner to put Oak Mountain on a 7-0 run and bring the Eagles within one of the lead at 50-49 with 1:40 remaining.

After two free throws from the Warriors, Oak Mountain came back with another basket Antheny Carey thanks to an offensive rebound and put back off the glass.

With the Eagles continuing to put Thompson on the free throw line, they were going to have to remain hot and continue making baskets, but after Carey’s put back, they were unable to find another basket.

The Warriors went on to make their final six free throws, and while Oak Mountain had the ball own three with 28 seconds to play, the Eagles were unable to make a shot, which led to more forced shots in the final 20 seconds before Thompson closed the game out for the impressive win.

Early in the game, the precursor was there for a back-and-forth contest as both teams came out to start the game on different runs.

It was Thompson quickly out of the gates with a 5-0 advantage, but Nelson started his hot night quickly.

Nelson went on to go on an 8-0 run by himself with back-to-back 3-pointers and three consecutive baskets to give the Eagles the early lead at 8-5.

After Thompson briefly jumped back in front thanks to a Zack Littleton 3-pointer, Smith hit two free throws and then Nelson laid the ball in shortly after to give Oak Mountain a 12-10 advantage at the end of the first with Nelson posting 10 of the Eagles’ 12 points.

The back-and-forth affair continued into the second period with the lead changing hands on three different occasions in the period.

Thompson jumped back in front with a quick 3-pointer, before Nelson continued his strong play by picking up two more baskets to eventually give Oak Mountain their two-point advantage back at 17-15.

Grant Hopkins then decided he wanted his team to have the lead at the half and went on a 5-0 run by himself to give the Warriors a 20-17 lead. Then, just before the buzzer expired, Chaney Johnson was able to get an offensive rebound before throwing a one-handed, off-balance shot from the baseline into the basket to give Thompson a 22-19 advantage at the half.

The Warriors built off of that strong end to the first half, by coming out and playing strong to start the third quarter. The Warriors were able to jump up 27-21 after an and-1 from Johnson, and caused Oak Mountain to play comeback basketball for the rest of the quarter, and really the rest of the game.

The Eagles eventually cut the deficit down to one point at 29-28 thanks to a Dunn 3-pointer, but answered by an 8-0 run in the blink of an eye from Thompson.

The Warriors answered with a 3-pointer from Jack Dorolek on the ensuing possession, before Roberson knocked down two free throws and Dorolek hit another trey to put THS on top by a score of 37-28.

Dorolek hit two more free throws to total eight points in the quarter, while Jalen Bustamante hit a jumper as well to give Thompson a 41-29 advantage heading to the final quarter, after landing a big blow over the final four minutes of the third.

Give both teams credit in the final quarter, as Oak Mountain battled all the way back to within a point with its season on the line and Thompson for making 11 of their 13 free throws to stave off the comeback.

In a balanced, team effort, Roberson ended up leading Thompson with 12 points thanks to shooting 10-12 from the free throw line, while Hopkins and Dorolek both added 11 points and Johnson chipped in 10 points.

Nelson had 23 points to lead Oak Mountain, while Smith pitched in 13. Dunn posted six and Carey five points in their final game for the Eagles.

Roberson and Hopkins were named to the all-area team for Thompson, while Dunn, Nelson and Carey were named to the team for Oak Mountain.