MUSCLE SHOALS — Dissatisfied with the way it had played defense down the stretch in its two previous close losses this season to its neighboring rival Deshler, Sheffield sought to buckle down after halftime Friday night.
The Bulldogs succeeded, particularly during a momentum-swinging stretch late in the third quarter that put Sheffield’s boys up for good in a 62-54 semifinal win against the Tigers in the Colbert County high school basketball tournament.
Evening up the season series with Deshler at two apiece, Sheffield advances to today’s tournament championship game against Muscle Shoals at 7 p.m. at Northwest-Shoals Community College.
“It’s all about defense,” Bulldogs forward Simon Ridgeway said. “That’s all we’ve practiced since the last time we played them. We stepped it up this time.”
Ridgeway finished with a game-high 18 points, while Shaq Carroll added 15 and Hunter Danley 12 for the Bulldogs.
They led 29-28 at halftime but fell into an offensive rut, going scoreless the first 3 minutes of the third quarter as Deshler took a 1-point lead, its first since the first quarter.
Sheffield responded with a 12-2 run to lead 41-32 on Danley’s basket with 1:33 left in the third quarter, while holding the Tigers to two baskets during a 6 1/2-minute stretch.
Deshler created opportunities with its press defense in the fourth quarter, trailed by as little as 52-47 on Chandler Brown’s 3-pointer with 2:23 to play and again by five with 2 minutes left on a Zach Garner basket, but got no closer.
“We just really didn’t get in our press offense,” Sheffield coach Ski Anderson said. “We called timeout to try to get in it, and then we still didn’t do it. But I’m proud of our guys. We’d been off 11 days, and that’s long time to have a layoff.
“We had some time to work on some things. We just tried to turn up the intensity and play better defense and rebound with them. This is the fourth time we’ve played them and they’d out-rebounded us every time. Tonight we had all of our guys hitting the boards and playing defense.”
Thomas Gamble scored a team-high 17 points for Deshler, while B.J. Bailey added 15.
Sheffield staked a 16-14 first-quarter advantage and led by as much as 24-16 on Ridgeway’s spin move in the post early in the second quarter.
Deshler closed to within 1 on Brandon Creasy’s jumper from the left elbow with 24 seconds left in the half.
The teams still have one more date on Jan. 26 to decide the season series. Meanwhile, Sheffield moves on to face Muscle Shoals for the first time this season.
n Muscle Shoals 68, Colbert Heights 38: Muscle Shoals found some offense, breaking open what was a tight game late in the second quarter with a 25-5 run en route to a semifinals win.
The defending county champion Trojans led 23-21 with less than 2 minutes left before halftime, but closed on an 11-3 run to take a 34-24 advantage into the break.
Muscle Shoals built on it, turning up the tempo with defensive pressure. The Trojans scored the first 12 points of the second half and pushed the lead out to 48-26 by the end of its big run.
“We just finally shot the ball,” Muscle Shoals coach Jody Lanier said. “We’ve been waiting all year to make some shots. We’ve been kind of seeing that in practice lately, but we haven’t really seen it in a game. And what I like about is it was a lot of different guys scoring. We need more of that.”
Post player Blake Goodwin scored a game-high 19 points as the Trojans’ only double-digit scorer, as 10 different players scored.
Muscle Shoals’ defensive pressure helped account for a 25-6 advantage in turnover margin, and the Trojans totaled 14 steals, including four by Damarian King and three by Debo Reader.
Kaleb Suggs scored 13 of his team-high 17 in the first half for the Wildcats. Jeffrey Mitchell added 10.
“Blake had really good game,” Lanier said of Goodwin, who matched up with Suggs. “Suggs is the real deal. I feel like he’s a Division I player. He’s hard to stop. We were double-teaming him most of the night. I think we kind of wore him down a little bit because he has to do a lot. That was kind of our game plan.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org.