Usually an area tournament title yields not only a home sub-regional game, but also a more favorable matchup for high school basketball playoff teams.
Try telling that Mars Hill’s boys and Red Bay’s girls.
Their playoff paths didn’t follow the chalk, and upsets in area tournament finals on the other side of their brackets caused tough matchups in this week’s sub-regional round.
After winning its area tournament Monday, Class 3A No. 2 Mars Hill boys (25-5) are rewarded with a sub-regional against No. 4 West Morgan (24-6) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Likewise, Class 2A No. 5 Red Bay girls (26-3) won their area tournament only get a game against No. 4 Lexington (26-7) on Thursday.
“This is the toughest sub-regional game we’ve had in the last five years to be honest,” Red Bay coach Donnie Roberts said. “The last three years we’ve had no problems in those sub-regional games. This will be a tough one. Lexington has a real good team, a senior team. It sort of shocked me Tanner won that game at Lexington.”
Roberts was referring to Lexington’s loss to Tanner in the Area 16 tournament final Saturday, which set up this sub-regional matchup. The Golden Bears had won both previous meetings this season, including the previous one by 19 in January, before losing to Tanner by two in overtime Saturday.
Red Bay, which has five blue map state championships in its trophy case, finished state runner-up last season and is looking to make the Northwest Regional for the sixth straight year.
The Tigers have lost once to in-state competition this season (3A No. 2 Lauderdale County). They don’t have much experience against Lexington recently, though, the teams playing twice the last two seasons, the last a Red Bay win in the 2011 Northwest Alabama Girls Christmas Tournament.
Despite fielding talented teams as one of the area’s better programs, Lexington has had tough draws historically, advancing past the sub-regional round of the playoffs once since 2001. That happened in 2011 when it lost to Red Bay, 32-31, in its Northwest Regional opener.
“Looking at Lexington’s matchups in the past, it’s brutal,” Golden Bears coach Nick Cottrell said. “Even when you look at Tanner this year, three of their girls played on a state championship team two years ago, and they combined for 27 points the other night. Now, we go to Red Bay, who was the state runner-up last season. But our girls aren’t scared. We’ve had two really good days of focus in practice since Saturday.”
For Mars Hill’s boys, there arguably was no easy out in sub-regionals.
The Panthers drew West Morgan when the Rebels lost to perennial power Madison Academy in their area final Monday.
Now, Mars Hill will have to deal with West Morgan guard Brandon Roberts, who is averaging 30 points a game, in order to advance to the Northwest Regional for the seventh straight year.
“There wasn’t an easy out for us, and there’s not supposed to be when you get to this point in the playoffs,” said Mars Hill coach Mike Mitchell, who led the Panthers to the state final four last season. “That’s just the way it is sometimes. We’ll have to play well. It will be a tough job for us defensively trying to slow (Roberts) down.”
Though they didn’t win their area, falling Monday to Lauderdale County, top-ranked Mars Hill’s girls also face a tough matchup at No. 3 Madison Academy.
Madison Academy is undefeated this season against competition in Class 3A and lower. Three of the Mustangs’ losses came against 6A No. 6 Huntsville. Another was against 4A No. 7 Madison County.
Madison Academy has advanced to the state final four each of the last four seasons, including a state championship in 2011 and runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010.
Mars Hill is looking to return to the Northwest Regional first time since 2009. The Panthers also made it as recently as 2005 and 2007.
&ldquoThey’ve played some tough 6A teams, and that’s tough when they’re hanging with it big schools like that,” said Mars Hill coach Ashley Rutledge, whose team emerged as the No. 1 seed during the regular season out of an area with three top 10-ranked teams. “They’ve got one of the best players in the state, (guard Sierra) Jones.
“Us playing in the toughest area in the state, there’s a downfall to it because its hard to make it out, but there’s a good side because it prepares us for what we’ll see down the road. We beat Lauderdale County on the road earlier this season and a lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to do that. We’ll have to play a similar game in this one.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.
This week’s sub-regionals
All games at 7 p.m. unless noted
Shoals Christian (12-13) at Tharptown (19-7)
Belgreen (9-14) at R.A. Hubbard (17-5)
Phil Campbell (16-1) at Tanner (12-15)
Lexington (26-7) at Red Bay (26-3)
Mars Hill at Madison Academy
West Morgan at Lauderdale County
Central (15-15) at Brooks (11-19)
R.A. Hubbard at Phillips
Belgreen at Shoals Christian
Red Bay at Tanner
Hatton at Colbert Heights
Deshler at Madison Academy
West Morgan at Mars Hill
Wilson at Brooks
Russellville at East Limestone