No. 7 Spain Park advances to Elite Eight after overtime thriller against Sparkman

Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

By LAUREN SEXTON | Sports Reporter

JACKSONVILLE – After having a strong offensive run against Sparkman in the Sweet 16 at Jacksonville State’s Pete Mathew’s Coliseum, the Spain Park Jaguars faced a final quarter panic when their game got thrown into overtime on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Playing in their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 and second consecutive against the Sparkman Senators, the Jags got comfortable early on after gaining a considerable lead over the Senators.

With back-to-back action at the net and a strong defensive run early on, it looked as though Spain Park was going to be well on its way to a win, but Sparkman had an answer every step of the way, eventually forcing overtime with a buzzer-beating shot to end regulation.

Spain Park, however, didn’t crack under the pressure or momentum swing, as the Jags battled back to regain the momentum in overtime, staving off three last-second shot attempts from the Senators to pick up a 54-52 win.

“We preach in our program that it’s a next-play mentality,” Spain Park head coach Chris Laatsch said. “That no play is more important than another play.”

It was a battle of the defenses to start the game as both teams struggled to put points onto the scoreboard. However, Spain Park’s offense picked up momentum with Sam Wright posting the Jaguars’ first points from the free throw line.

Zach Gray followed with a layup to make it 4-1, but Sparkman tied it midway through a low-scoring quarter.

Two more field goals from Gray, a three-pointer from Chase James and another free throw from Wright kept the game close, but the Jaguars trailed 15-12 going into the second quarter.

Trailing 17-15, the Jags responded late in the second quarter with a 5-1 run that gave them a 20-18 lead going into the half.

A fast-paced third quarter gave Spain Park the opportunity to increase its separation before the final period. Herritt Hunter knocked down a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, giving the Jags early momentum.

Wright followed Herritt with a three-point field goal of his own, later tacking on two more points from free throws.

Jared Smith went in shortly after for a layup with Wright following with two more of his own.

Korbin Long and Lamar added a single free throw each, while Wright knocked down another basket outside the arc for a 37-29 lead going into the final period.

The Senators, however, saw the opportunity for a comeback in the final period and seized it. Right out of the gates, Sparkman aggressively got the ball back with a single-point victory insight.

Sparkman trailed 46-44, and a failed three-point field goal attempt but turned into a 46-46 tie when the Senators capitalized on a second-chance opportunity.

The Jaguars and the Senator entered overtime.

James posted another three points outside the arc to start the extra period for the Jaguars with Wright following with another layup. Long tacked on a free throw and Gray knocked down the final two points for the Jaguars.

Another back-and-forth battle between the two teams’ offenses ensued, but t it was the Jaguars’ defense that saved them in the end.

Sparkman got two looks in the final 10 seconds from beyond the arc to win the game and then had an offensive putback right in front of the rim as the buzzer sounded to tie, but it clanked off the back of the iron, preserving the win for the Jags.

“I’m super proud that our guys didn’t fold and didn’t quit,” Laatsch said. “They just kept competing, kept chopping wood and were able to hold on.”

Wright was Spain Park’s leading scorer with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Gray followed Wright with 11 points and six rebounds. James added six points and totaled three rebounds.


Spain Park will take on Huntsville in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Jacksonville State.