Oak Mountain headed back to Sweet 16

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

NORTH SHELBY – After last year’s magical run to their first Final Four in school history, the Oak Mountain Eagles will have a chance to replicate that success and possibly take it a step further this year after taking down county rival Thompson on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

The Eagles were able to overcome a hot start by the Warriors thanks to several strong runs and making 20 of 23 free throws in the game for a 53-44 win that cemented a spot in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

Aside from the success at the free throw line, Oak Mountain got 16 points each from Evan Smith and Will Shaver in the win, while the defense locked down the three-point line and made life difficult for the visitors.

But it was Thompson that started hot.

The Warriors couldn’t have asked for a more ideal start to the game after Wes Roberson, Grant Hopkins and Brad Lewis each hit a 3-pointer in the early going to help the Warriors sprint out to a 9-2 lead.

Oak Mountain’s talent, however, prevents them from going too long without a run, and the Eagles put one together following Thompson’s hot start. They ended the quarter with a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to one point at 9-8 going to the second period.

Thompson jumped back out by three early in the second quarter, but Oak Mountain’s defense had visibly turned up the pressure with its zone, which kept the Warriors at bay on the offensive end.

Smith then scored four consecutive points on back-to-back possessions for the Eagles to give them the lead at 14-13. Brady Dunn followed with two free throws to make it 16-13 before J.B. Mitchell followed with a layup for Thompson to make it 16-15.

From there, however, Noah Young made two more free throws for Oak Mountain and Shaver added a put-back dunk to help the Eagles reach 20 points.

Thompson got one more basket from Mitchell to make it 20-17 at the half, but after their hot start, the Warriors went into the half trailing by three.

The tight battle continued early in the third quarter, but the Eagles started fast with a 4-0 run on layups from Dunn and Smith to make it 24-17.

Thompson followed with a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game again. Then, after trading baskets and free throws, the Warriors seemed to be gaining confidence after a Lewis and Steven Walker layup cut Oak Mountain’s lead to two points at 28-26.

Just before that, Shaver also went down with an ankle injury, as the game seemed to be turning against the Eagles at that point.

But Wilder Evers answered with a big 3-pointer to start an 11-3 run to end the third quarter, which also saw Shaver return.

Lewis made a field goal and free throw for Thompson during the stretch, but the Eagles got baskets from Smith and Shaver as well as free throws from Smith and Dunn to take a 39-29 lead into the final quarter.

Hopkins tried to bring the Warriors back with a quick 3-pointer to start the quarter, which cut the deficit to seven, but Oak Mountain had an answer every time it looked like Thompson might start a run.

Smith came back and hit two free throws for an answer, while Evers then picked up a steal on Thompson’s ensuing possession, before sprinting the other way to slam it home for a 43-32 lead.

That was followed shortly after by back-to-back layups from Young to put Oak Mountain in front by 14 points.

Hopkins came back with a 3-pointer and a jumper to trim the deficit back to single digits with 2:08 to play, which sparked an 8-1 run that brought the Warriors back to within seven points with 1:22 to play.

Thompson eventually cut it all the way down to six points after J.B. Mitchell stole the ball and laid it in with 35 seconds left, but time wasn’t on the Warriors’ side.

Oak Mountain finished off the final 30 seconds with three more points to grab the nine-point victory and keep its season alive.

Outside of the 16 from Shaver and Smith, the Eagles also got eight from Young, seven from Evers and six from Dunn.

Thompson was led by Hopkins with 15 points, while Brad Lewis also finished in double figures with 10 points.

The Eagles will play Hoover in the area tournament championship this Saturday at 5 p.m.