Come Thursday night, the basketball season will end for at least one area girls team ranked in the state’s top 10.
No. 1 Lauderdale County, No. 2 Mars Hill and No. 6 Deshler are three of the five teams vying for Class 3A, Area 16’s two sub-regional playoff berths.
The area tournament, effectively the first round of the state playoffs, will determine who gets left out.
It begins tonight with a play-in game between Colbert County and Clements at Mars Hill.
Thursday’s games ratchet up the intensity, with Lauderdale County facing Deshler at 7:30 p.m. and Mars Hill hosting the Clements-Colbert County winner at 6 p.m. in a pair of knockout games. The losers will see their seasons end.
“If this were March Madness, this would be like a 1 and 2 seed playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” Lauderdale County coach Brant Llewellyn said. “We’ve had tough area tournaments before and tough sub-regional pairings before, but I can’t remember a time when the first-round area tournament game was so intense for every team involved.”
Elsewhere locally, tournament play begins with today’s play-in games for five-team areas at two other sites: R.A. Hubbard and Tharptown. Like Mars Hill, both are hosting their area’s boys and girls tournaments. Phillips hosts a five-team boys play-in game Tuesday.
Other tournament hosts are Brooks girls, Lexington girls, Red Bay girls, Haleyville boys Hamilton boys and Colbert Heights boys.
First-round games are Thursday for girls’ teams and Friday for boys’. Winners of those games earn berths in the sub-regional round and advance to the area tournament finals to be played Saturday (girls) and Monday (boys) for a chance to host a sub-regional game.
Others, like No. 2 Covenant Christian and No. 3 R.A. Hubbard girls in 1A-16, also face a competitive tournament field. However, arguably nowhere in the state, girls or boys, has the kind of parity seen in 3A-16 girls in its top four seeds.
As a No. 4 seed, Clements has a game-changing player in Daneshia Malone, and the Colts split two games with top-seeded Mars Hill this season.
Lauderdale County, the defending 3A state champion, split four games with Mars Hill this season but swept two against Deshler.
Deshler, which had its streak of 11 straight state final four appearances snapped last season, split two games with Mars Hill this season and swept Clements.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Deshler coach Jana Killen said. “We are just going to go out there and do the best we can. We’ve had practices to work on a lot of stuff. I’m optimistic. I don’t think it’s impossible to advance out of this area. Really anybody could come out of it. That’s what’s so crazy about it.”
Between all the teams involved exist a combined 29 state championship appearances and 26 titles won. Only two of them will still be alive for a chance to add to that come Thursday.
“It’s going to be a really interesting tournament,” Llewellyn said, “and really a shame that two of the best teams in the state will be going home after Thursday’s game.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.