Listening as students chanted his name from the stands, Everette Mayes flashed a sheepish grin and stepped to the foul line.
Moments earlier, Mayes missed two free throws off the front of the iron. But not this time.
Mayes drained his first attempt, breaking a tie game with 1.7 seconds remaining to send Austin High past James Clemens 40-39 Monday night in the Class 6A, Area 16 title game.
As the Area 16 champion, Austin (18-7) hosts Hazel Green on Friday in a sub-regional game, while James Clemens (16-15) travels to Sparkman. The winners advance to the Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville.
“The way our guys handled those last two possessions was huge,” Austin coach Demond Garth said. “Several different guys stepped up, and now we get to host, which is very important.”
Austin’s players — and fans — understood the magnitude of the situation. When the final buzzer sounded before James Clemens attempted a desperation shot, everyone on the Black Bears’ bench were on their feet celebrating.
The players were greeted by celebrating students as they made their way into the locker room.
“That was a tiring game, right there,” Mayes said. “I think we were still drained from our game Friday night, so we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. We still found a way, though.”
And it wasn’t easy.
James Clemens led by four in the second quarter, which was the largest margin of the night. For most of the second half, both teams struggled to build a cushion larger than one point.
Alphonse Johnson led James Clemens with 10 points.
“We guarded them well — really well,” Garth said. “But we knew it was going to be like this. They’re a good team.”
After two lead changes and one tie in the final minute of regulation, Austin reserve Josh Walker provided one of the biggest plays of the night by picking up a loose ball under the James Clemens basket. After a timeout, Mayes drove to the basket on the Black Bears’ final possession and drew a foul with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Mayes finished with eight points, while Camron Reedus finished with 12. Troy Harris added 10.
“Going to the free-throw line that last time, I know it was loud in here, but I didn’t hear anything,” Mayes said. “I blocked everything out, and for some reason, I felt refreshed — like it was the beginning of the game.
“We weren’t going to lose this game. It was too important. Now we get to host on Friday, which is exactly what we wanted.”
Austin girls 54, James Clemens 39: Holding a long-awaited trophy tightly, Aaliyah Rice turned toward Austin’s bleachers with a huge smile and held the hardware above her head.
For the Austin forward, winning the program’s first area title since 2001 was the ultimate present for her 16th birthday.
Austin used a fast start to end a 12-year drought, beating James Clemens for the Class 6A, Area 16 title.
As the Area 16 champion, Austin (22-7) hosts Bob Jones on Thursday in a sub-region game, while James Clemens travels to Sparkman.
“Best birthday present ever,” Rice said while holding balloons as she walked out of the locker room.
Her Austin teammates shared those sentiments.
Usually quiet and reserved players participated in an enthusiastic celebration, and those joyful emotions lingered well after the game ended.
“You have no idea how happy I am right now,” senior point guard Takisha Jordan said. “This has been a long time coming. We’ve worked so hard to get this. I’m so excited, I’m going to be jumpy all night.”
Fellow senior Meagan Hamilton agreed.
“It hit me by the fourth quarter,” she said. “By the time the third quarter was over, I couldn’t stop telling myself, ‘We’ve done it. We’re area champs.’ ”
Austin left no doubt about which team was best. The Black Bears opened the game with a 16-4 run and led by more than 15 for most of the second half.
Tyra Johnson led Austin with 13 points, while Jordan scored 12, with nine coming in the first quarter. Katie Speegle tossed in 12, and Hamilton drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter to finish with nine points.
“I’m proud of the girls,” Austin coach Bruce Hamilton said. “They’ve worked hard for this. We’ve been close, played in area championship games before. But to finally get over that hump and win the area, it’s huge for these girls.”
Contact Justin Graves at 256-340-2460 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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