Oak Mountain claims area tournament championship

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Despite losing to Hoover in overtime two weeks ago on their home floor, the Oak Mountain Eagles went on to host the Class 7A, Area 5 tournament, but something still didn’t feel right.

Since that loss to Hoover, the Eagles have been out to prove they are a team that can win a state championship, and on Friday, Feb. 7, they found themselves in a familiar matchup with the Hoover Buccaneers in overtime on their home floor—this time with the area championship on the line.

After pulling off a comeback from down four at the end of regulation, however, Oak Mountain had confidence going into overtime, even after losing a two-point lead in the final 17 seconds.

In overtime, the Eagles grabbed an early two-point lead again on a layup from Noah Young after a long possession looking for the perfect opportunity. This time, they didn’t relinquish it.

After Hoover failed to convert on the ensuing possession, Zane Nelson and Evan Smith put the game away on the next two possessions. Nelson made two free throws and a layup off two great defensive stands, while Smith then took a charge on a third defensive stand to help the Eagles pull in front 49-43.

While Hoover made one more free throw, Oak Mountain made three of four in the final minute to put away a 52-44 win and claim the Class 7A, Area 5 title.

It marked the first area championship in four years for the Eagles, who were led by 15 points from Nelson and 13 points from Young. Young came up big with eight points between the fourth quarter and overtime, including the run-sparking basket to start the extra period.

The entire game leading up to the thrilling overtime finish was just as exciting with neither team leading by more than five points.

From the start you could sense excitement was brewing when Will Shaver threw down a dunk on the opening Eagles’ possession for two of his eight points.

Oak Mountain eventually jumped out to a 9-8 lead late, but right before the buzzer sounded, Hoover hit a floater to snatch the lead away heading to the second quarter.

That seemed to spark something in the Bucs, who carried that basket into the second quarter with a quick 4-0 run to take the largest lead of the game at 14-9.

Oak Mountain answered back with another dunk from Shaver and a 3-pointer from Brady Dunn to tie the game again at 15-15.

Hoover answered right back with two threes in its next two possessions, before Nelson hit a jumper to make it 21-19 Bucs with 1:30 left in the half. After that quick scoring barrage, both teams settled in and played strong defense the rest of the half, making that the score at the break.

Coming out of the locker room, Hoover again started the third quarter on a run similar to the second to take another five-point lead at 24-19 behind strong play from Chip Culpepper.

Just as Hoover’s defense started showing it could shut down Oak Mountain with quick moves to the ball despite great ball movement from the Eagles, Wilder Evers hit a crucial 3-pointer, followed shortly after by one from Young to put their team in front 25-24.

That sparked a stretch of play where the lead changed seven times the rest of the quarter, but it was the final lead change that was special.

Oak Mountain was able to come up with a steal as Hoover tried to hold for the last shot in a tie game, which led to the ball being pushed up to Evers by himself. The talented 6-foot-2 sophomore took the ball, leapt in the air and threw down a powerful dunk at the buzzer before his feet hit the ground again and he started flexing with the student section in a frenzy right next to him.

That put the Eagles in front 32-30 heading to the final quarter.

Hoover, however, came out with hungry in the fourth, which led to the Bucs taking another lead, this time by four points after hitting back-to-back 3-pointers.

That lead dwindled when Young hit a layup on a backdoor cut and Smith hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 2:50 remaining. Then, the guy who started the first two quarters with dunks, came through again to emphatically put Oak Mountain in front 41-39 with two minutes left.

Hoover tied it again at 41-41, but with 55 seconds left, Evers hit a layup through contact that was almost another dunk to put the Eagles back in front by two.

After the Bucs failed to convert on its next possession, Oak Mountain looked to be in good shape up by two with the ball and only 17 seconds remaining, but a turnover on the inbound pass changed that.

Hoover ended up getting fouled shortly after on a layup attempt and made both free throws in the clutch to force overtime.

But on their home floor, the Eagles weren’t going to let a second overtime game against the Bucs slip away, which led to a hungry effort and the victory in OT.

Oak Mountain will now play the winner of Huntsville/Sparkman on Thursday, Feb. 13, at Jacksonville State University in the Sweet 16.