Spain Park beats rival Oak Mountain to claim 3rd area championship in a row

Published 9:03 pm Friday, February 10, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Just after Oak Mountain had taken its first lead of the second half in the final minute of the area tournament championship game on Friday, Feb. 10, Spain Park answered in a big way.

Coming off a Matthew Heiberger made layup that gave the Eagles a 46-44 lead with 1:04 left, Zach Gray drove strong to the basket for Spain Park and not only made a layup, but earned a trip to the free throw line.

Now tied 46-46, Gray missed the ensuing free throw attempt, but in a battle for the ball at the rim, it was tipped onto the edge of the rim by Sam Wright and rolled into the basket to give Spain Park a 48-46 lead after a four-point trip up the floor.

That momentum shift became the final in a back-and-forth battle between the two teams, as the Jags used that 4-0 run to spark an 8-0 run to end the game and pick up a 52-46 victory to claim their third consecutive area tournament title.

It capped off a thrilling matchup between the two rivals that saw neither lead by more than four at the end of any quarter.

In the early going, Heiberger picked up where he left off two nights earlier in his 35-point performance against Chelsea by scoring Oak Mountain’s first eight points, which led to an early 8-4 lead for the Eagles.

That was the start of a big first quarter for the home team, as the Eagles jumped out to a 15-8 advantage through the opening quarter behind a dominant defensive effort that held Spain Park leading scorers Zach Gray and Wright to a combined four points all from Wright.

Spain Park, however, quickly found a rhythm in the second quarter and it started with Hunter Herritt burying a 3-pointer to bring the Jags to within four.

Still, the Jags spent much of the second period battling from behind.

Oak Mountain eventually extended the lead to its largest of the half at 21-13, but Spain Park’s effort intensified from there.

The Jags improved defensively, limiting clean looks, while Gray started to catch fire.

He finished the final two minutes with six points, including a steal and layup at the buzzer that capped off a 9-2 run that gave the Jaguars their first lead at 27-26 heading into the halftime break.

The Jaguars carried over their momentum quickly with a 4-0 run tacked on to the strong end to the first half, which allowed them to take a 31-26 lead.

Spain Park eventually extended the lead to as many as nine points at 37-28, but Heiberger wasn’t going to let the Eagles go down without a fight.

After willing his team to victory in the fourth quarter two nights earlier, he scored six points to close the third quarter and assisted on a 3-pointer from Kevin Jasinski. That strong finish to the period allowed the Eagles to claw within four points at 44-40 going to the final period.

He then scored six consecutive points to start the final quarter, including a steal and layup to tie the game and the go-ahead basket with 1:04 left.

But, in a low scoring final quarter, that became the final basket for the Eagles.

Spain Park got Gray’s basket and the offensive put back shortly after followed by four straight free throws to complete the thrilling six-point victory.

The Jags were led by Wright with 20 points in the win, while Gray finished with 11.

Oak Mountain was led by Heiberger with 25 points in the loss.

Both will now gear up for the Sweet 16 in Jacksonville on Wednesday, Feb. 15.