Evangel defeats Wiregrass to win first ACSC state title in five years

Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

MONTGOMERY – For the past four years, the Evangel Christian Lightning have tried to overcome the Wiregrass Kings to reign atop the ACSC.

Hope that this year would be different started to grow after Evangel went down to Dothan and beat Wiregrass for the first time on the road, but in the state championship game on Saturday, Feb. 17, that hope became a reality.

The Lightning defeated the Kings 60-51 in the title game at Faulkner University to claim their first ACSC title in five years and complete a perfect season in conference play.

“Both teams fought so hard until the end,” Evangel coach Hagan Joiner said. “I am proud of the unselfishness of this group and the legacy these seniors are leaving behind.”

Unlike Evangel’s pair of double-digit wins against Wiregrass in the regular season, the game was tightly fought between both teams as they were separated by less than 10 points for the entire contest.

The Lightning and Kings felt each other out throughout the opening stretch of the game in a low-scoring first quarter.

Evangel got the better of the two teams in the first eight minutes of the game and led 10-8 at the end of the first.

The scoring pace ramped up in the second quarter as the teams added 31 combined points before halftime.

While Wiregrass continued to keep it a close game and threatened the Lightning, Evangel scored 17 points in the second quarter to lead 27-22 at the break.

After the teams came out of the locker room, the points continued to flow from both teams, but the momentum shifted in the Kings favor to start the third quarter.

Wiregrass dropped 19 points in the third to put the pressure on the Lightning, and it held Evangel to 15 points to all but erase the deficit.

Going into the fourth quarter, the Lightning led just 42-41 and needed a strong response to win the state title.

When they needed it most, Evangel stepped up on both sides of the ball and took the fight to the Kings. The Lightning scored 18 points in the final eight minutes for its best offensive quarter of the game, and on the other end of the floor, they kept Wiregrass to just 10 points to keep the defending champions at arm’s length.

Evangel used that fourth-quarter finish to earn the 60-51 victory and claim the ACSC title.

Joiner knew from the beginning of the game that his team needed to play its best basketball to claim the championship because of the Kings’ experience at this stage of the playoffs.

“You could tell from the tip this game was going to be a great one,” Joiner said. “Wiregrass has won the state title four years in a row so those seniors on their side don’t know what it’s like to lose, and we are trying to get over that hump mentally to become champions.”

In the end, the Lightning did get over the hill to take their place atop the ACSC after an extended absence.

However, it wasn’t easy as Evangel was faced with challenges throughout the game. That adversity put to the test all of the lessons that Joiner and his staff have emphasized all season, and the Lightning passed with flying colors.

“Our motto all season has been, ‘attitude through adversity,’” Joiner said. “In the first half, Cade Joiner sustained a high ankle sprain and was able to play limited minutes to rest of the way. Our leading scorer Owen Bugnar fouled out with four minutes to go. Paul Dixon was battling sickness, but these guys as a group came together through it all and found a way to win.”

Clay Stanton led Evangel with 17 points with Dixon just behind him with 16 points. Bugnar joined them in double figures. Hayden Black added eight points and Cade Joiner still scored four points despite his injury.