Confidence was never their problem.
From Day 1, East Lawrence's boys basketball players wanted to win, it just took longer than they expected to get there.
"To be honest, I was expecting us to come out and beat everybody," said Camron Garner, a sophomore. "Things didn't turn out as I thought they would."
Hopes were high, but the Eagles (9-18) hit a dry spell almost as soon as they started. With young players coming off of an undefeated junior varsity year, the team had its work cut out. December was disappointing as East Lawrence opened the season with a 3-9 record before the Christmas tournaments began. Coach Dale Walker, who has coached at East Lawrence for 13 years, saw it coming.
"They figured out they didn't know as much as they really thought," Walker said.
While it took experience and building team chemistry, something else happened to the Eagles when they started hearing that they couldn't match up to the competition.
Underdogs or underrated, the Eagles weren't going to make the losing label stick.
"I feel like other teams, they under-estimate us," senior Carrington Coffey said. "It gives us confidence, because when we beat a bigger team, we feel like we can beat anyone."
Upsets happened in stages: Garner had the game-winning shot to top East Limestone 53-51 in December; at the Lawrence County tournament, the Eagles found their first county win as they topped Hatton 51-39.
"I'm sure everybody was expecting us to go ahead and lose the first game," Walker said.
Late January, the team garnered a win over 20-point win over R.A. Hubbard after falling the two previous times.
"It's not that we've been getting murdered all season long," Walker said. "We've been in just about every game that we've played in."
East Lawrence opened the Class 4A, Area 15 tournament by getting past Haleyville 56-46 and lost to Brooks in the area championship. They will play at West Limestone in the Northwest Sub-Regional tournament Friday.
Established and ready, now they know who they are.
"You can describe us as a run and go team," Malik Garth said. "We have to out-run people because we don't have much size."
The Eagles look to Garner to shoot the ball, and Garth to drive it down the lane. Senior Terrence Deloney can drive and shoot, while Coffey provides the hustle to set the tempo. Their shooting game is inside the paint.
"We don't have a lot of room for error. Whatever we do, we have to do it right," Walker said.
It took time, but East Lawrence finally grew into its varsity shoes, including learning how to win close games. Looking ahead to next year, Walker is anticipating coming back to a team with more depth and experience.
"We definitely want to put ourselves in a position to build next year, even though this season isn't over," Walker said. "They've grown up. I've been proud of them. I think we've done quite well."
For Garner, the win over Hatton was the moment when things started to look right.
"I felt like we were the team that I know we should have been all season," he said.
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Decatur Heritage (20-10) at Lynn (28-1)
Marion County (12-12) at Falkville (19-4)
Belgreen (9-14) at R.A. Hubbard (17-5)
Phil Campbell at Tanner (12-15)
Lexington (26-7) at Red Bay (26-3)
Cordova (17-15) at Danville (24-8)
West Morgan (8-20) at Lauderdale County (28-5)
Priceville (16-13) at West Limestone (22-9)
Boaz (13-14) at Brewer (29-1)
Athens (14-13) at Cullman (17-10)
Hartselle (16-12) at Lawrence County (24-6)
Bob Jones (28-5) at Austin (22-7)
Decatur Heritage(17-9) at Parrish (26-1)
Marion County (23-6) at Falkville (10-15)
R.A. Hubbard (16-7) at Phillips-Bear Creek (24-6)
Red Bay at Tanner (23-4)
Hatton (17-9) at Colbert Heights (18-9)
West Morgan (24-6) at Mars Hill (25-5)
Danville (17-10) at Winfield (20-8)
East Lawrence (9-16) at West Limestone (22-9)
Russellville (11-15) at East Limestone (18-11)
Cullman (19-11) at Athens (23-7)
Hazel Green (22-9) at Austin (18-7)