Mountain Brook’s Tyler Davis, one of the best high school basketball coaches in the state, had a game plan drawn up to limit the success of Buckhorn freshman Caleb Holt in Saturday’s AHSAA Class 6A Boys Basketball state championship game in Legacy Arena at the BJCC.
Holt was better than the game plan in Buckhorn’s 65-56 victory.
The 6-foot-5 freshman, who turned Legacy Arena into his personal playground this week, put on a memorable performance in leading the Bucks to their fourth state title and first since 1995. Holt scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. He was 12 of 18 from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3-point territory and 5 of 9 from the free-throw line. He added four assists and two steals.
In two Final Four games, Holt had 68 points, 32 rebounds, five assists and seven steals.
Opposing teams have three more years of this.
“He’s an unbelievable talent, obviously,” Davis said. “And then the players that are around him put strain on your team. We tried to take him away, he has 32 and 18. I mean, he’s a generational talent, like Lebron James and Michael Jordan.”
Buckhorn head coach Patrick Harding doesn’t disagree.
“If they give a 6A Player of the Year and he doesn’t get (the award), they ought to just retire it,” Harding said. “He’s a freshman, he’s 15, and I know there’s seniors who are really, really good. But, if you’re giving it to the best player, on the biggest stage he absolutely owned it. These were two of his best, if not his best, games of the year. Two really good coaches that went after him and tried to stop him. He’s just a really good player.”
Harding said he felt at the beginning of the season that his team was a year or two away from winning a state championship. He knew he had some great young talent, including Holt and sophomores Jeremiah Wilson and Austen Childress.
“You have to be lucky or good, I haven’t been that,” said Harding, who was the head coach at Albertville High for 24 years. “This young core we have are very talented and I’ve got seven seniors who don’t care who gets the credit. They just play hard every day. They’re just wonderful teammates. It ended up we had the roster this year. We peaked at the right time. At Christmas, we weren’t very good. I don’t know if we even liked each other. We started playing better and it came at the right time.”
For Mountain Brook, it wasn’t a smooth ride this season, but the Spartans once again found their way into the state championship game. Junior Ty Davis had 18 points, four assists and four steals for the Spartans. Senior Kyle Layton, who missed most of the season recovering from a knee injury suffered in the summer, scored all 15 of his points on 3-pointers.
Pleasant Grove girls 53, Arab 36: Pleasant Grove has been knocking at the door of a Class 5A state championship for a few years. On Saturday, the Spartans kicked it in.
Now that the Spartans have the first girls' basketball state title in school history, they have a new door to knock at.
“Tamya just told me, ‘Coach, let’s go for two,” said Pleasant Grove head coach Walter Hicks.
With Tamya Smith around, a second title is certainly a possibility. The 6-foot junior contributed 27 points, nine rebounds, four steals, two blocks and an assist. She was 10 of 16 from the field, 2 of 2 on 3-pointers and 5 of 10 from the free-throw line.
As a team, the Spartans started slowly. The teams played to a 9-9 in the first quarter but Pleasant Grove only allowed one field in the second quarter. At halftime, Pleasant Grove lead 32-17. Arab battled in the second half but never could get close.
Aushantae Monday had 14 points and eight rebounds for Pleasant Grove.
“What it means for the program is we’re cemented in history,” Hicks said.
Hazel Green girls 53, Huffman 40: Hazel Green won the state title for the sixth consecutive season. The Trojans claimed the Class 6A championship with a quick start and outstanding defense throughout.
Hazel Green scored the game’s first 10 points and led, 12-4, at the end of the first quarter. By halftime, the lead had grown to 31-18. Huffman only scored two points in the third quarter, trailing 39-20 heading into the final eight minutes.
Leah Brooks had 20 points and 14 rebounds for Hazel Green while Amiyah Redus added 16 points.
Huffman shot 28 percent from the field and the Vikings were 1 of 16 on 3-pointers. Jamiria and Timiria Jones each scored 12 points for Huffman.
Hazel Green finishes the season 36-1 with the lone loss coming to Class 7A champion Hoover.
Hoover girls 55, Sparkman 44: Winning state championships is a way of life at Hoover. So, it’s a pretty big deal when a program does something new.
“We’ve never had a (girls' basketball) three-peat in school history, so this is really big for us,” said Hoover head coach Krystle Johnson.
Reniya Kelly has been a big part of each of those championships. Johnson said that her star guard “has been the best player in the state the last year three years.”
Kelly, a North Carolina, was certainly the best player on the court Saturday. She had 25 points and six rebounds in the win. Senior Layla Etchinson also had a big game in her final high school contest. Etchinson had 20 points and three steals.
Hoover boys 84, Central-Phenix City 66: It was a night for the youngsters to shine in the Class 7A title game. Phenix City’s Jacoby Hill had a tournament-high 37 points to lead his team. Hoover countered with a pair of sophomores. Salim London had 34 points for the Bucs and 6-foot-9 DeWayne Brown dominated the inside with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.
When it was done, the Bucs boys’ team put the final touches on a pair of basketball state championships for the school. Hoover became the first team to win a boys and girls title in the same season since Tanner High did it in 2011. The most previous time it happened before Tanner was in 2006 when Ramsay claimed two titles.
“It’s an incredible moment,” said Hoover head coach Scott Ware. “We talked about before the game, these guys started on August 1st with the first one-hour practice. It’s been a grind. We talk about how basketball is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Two of us left, we wanted to sprint today. I was proud of our guys, we wanted to sprint to the finish.”
With the Red Devils often running a five-guard lineup, the sprint often ended with the Hoover guards dumping the ball down low to the biggest player on the court. Brown made that strategy pay off. He was 11 of 13 from the field and 2 of 7 from the free-throw line.
“I thought that a couple of our post players would be able to at least slow him down just a little bit,” said Central Phenix City head coach Charles Burkett. “It wasn’t able to happen. We had to go to our contingency plan to play five guards to try to spread the floor to make them defend. We did that and they just kept coming. We just ran out of gas basically.”
Hoover jumped out to a 14-5 lead at the end of the quarter. Behind Hill, though, the Red Devils oustscored Hoover, 26-18, in the second quarter.
“I knew they were going to come at us,” Ware said. “They were going to punch and punch hard. That was that moment. We didn’t handle it that well for a little bit. We just needed to settle back down and punch back.”
London played a big part in punching back. The 6-foot-4 guard made 11 of 12 second-half shots and scored 25 points after halftime. He also helped the Bucs hold off a third-quarter rally by the Red Devils.
While it was a night for the young players to shine, Hoover senior Johnathan Caicedo, who Ware calls the team’s ‘Swiss Army Knife’, nearly pulled off a triple-double with eight points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
It was the second state championship in Hoover boys' basketball history. The first came in 2015 when Burkett was the head coach and Ware was one of his assistant coaches.
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