HANCEVILLE — After reviewing the positive notes of a basketball season that came to an end Wednesday afternoon, Shoals Christian coach Patrick Odom made sure not to sugarcoat things for his players.
“It’s been a few years since we were here, so it was time we got back,” Odom said after a 71-45 loss to Marion County in his team’s first Northwest Regional appearance since 2010. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, but we also have a bitter taste in our mouth.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back on this roster and I told them in the dressing room that they should leave here with a hole in their stomach wanting to return. Let’s finish something we weren’t able to do today.”
The Flame ended its season with a 15-14 record, which included a Class 1A, Area 16 tournament championship. But in its regional opener at Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum, Shoals Christian ran into a quick, long and athletic Marion County (25-6), which when tested early, responded with a dominating run that left little suspense in the second half.
Shoals Christian trailed 20-10 after one quarter but pulled within 20-17 after a Tanner Traglia 3-pointer with 5:22 left in the second.
From there, the Raiders closed the half on a 16-4 run for a 36-21 halftime lead.
Marion County stretched the run to 29-6 and led 49-23 mid-third quarter. They closed the period with a Ready Swanigan fast-break dunk and a Sean Wallace 3-pointer to lead 65-35.
Three scorers broke 20 points for the Raiders.
Swanigan accounted for 15 of his 21 and all nine of his rebounds in the first half.
Deshawn Riebesehl scored 14 of his game-high 23 points after halftime, and Wallace added 13 of his 21 in the second half.
Marion County (25-6) advances to the regional final to play Parrish on Saturday at 10:40 a.m. at Wallace State. The winner advances to the state final four in Birmingham.
“Coming in, we knew we’d have an advantage from a speed standpoint,” Marion County coach Rusty Clark said. “We wanted to put as much pressure on them as possible early, really be aggressive.
“I thought our press kind of wore on them. They’d figure it out and we’d adjust it a little. They have some good ball handlers and some good shooters, so we had to make sure to defend the 3-point line. For the most part, we did that.”
The Flame made 2 of 19 3-point attempts.
Matthew Russ scored a team-high 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting for Shoals Christian. Traglia finished with 9.
The Raiders scored 30 points off the Flame’s 22 turnovers.
“I think what you can’t see from talking to people or from a clip of film is how long they are,” Odom said. “Not only their athletic ability but also their ability to close lanes -- they were tough. We had a lot of things that looked open that turned into a deflection.”
Shoals Christian is in position to return nine of the 11 players on its roster, including four starters, next season.
After listening to his coach’s motivational jab, Russ already was looking ahead to the future.
“I think we’re going to be really good next year,” he said. “I think we’ll definitely make it back, and we’ll do our best to make it back.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.