Dynasty vs. parity

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

Chilton County High coach Donnie Hand doesn’t spend too much time talking to his Tigers about the county basketball tournament. Hand doesn’t want the team to think that winning the tournament is its only goal.

Indeed, area games and the playoffs await, but CCHS would no doubt like to win its seventh consecutive tournament championship when the event begins Monday.

Game 1: Isabella (No. 4 seed) vs. Maplesville (5)—8 p.m. Monday

Game 2: Jemison (3) vs. Verbena (6)—7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Game 3: Chilton Co. (1) vs. Game 1 winner—7:30 p.m. Thursday

Game 4: Thorsby (2)—Game 2 winner—8 p.m. Friday

Championship Game: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner—6:30 p.m. Saturday

“The pressure is on us,” Hand admitted.

However Hand has chosen to deal with a run of success that will be expected to continue this year, his approach has worked. Maplesville was the last team other than CCHS to win the tournament, during the 2001-02 season.

The Red Devils came oh-so-close to toppling the Tigers last year. The largest lead in the championship game was five points, and Chilton won by two points.

CCHS (7-4) appears to be a much more decided favorite this year. Maplesville sustained heavy losses to graduation (this year’s starting lineup will include two juniors in Brian Bailey and Josh Talley, a sophomore in Casey Atchison, a freshman in Cameron Morrow and an eighth grader in Anthony Johnson).

The tournament’s No. 2 seed, Thorsby, has been solid but unspectacular in compiling a 6-4 record thus far. Possibly the third-best team in last year’s tournament, Isabella, has struggled mightily so far despite the return of most key contributors.

The Devils are 0-3 so far before Friday night’s game against Autaugaville, but coach Eric Bailey knows the experience his young players gain this week will only help them in the future. Maplesville tuned up for the tournament by hosting the game Friday. The team probably needed the competition because it has played the fewest number of games so far out of the six county teams.

“That can be a problem,” Bailey said. “You’re playing against the same guys [in practice] over and over again.”

If there is a weakness that could keep CCHS from its seventh straight tournament title, it will be the Tigers’ recent difficulty in keeping other teams from scoring.

Chilton gave up scores of 107 (to Calera) and 77 (to Shelby County High) in a holiday tournament at Calera on Dec. 29-30.

“Right now, we’re playing pretty bad on defense,” Hand said. “When we’re trying to play straight up man-to-man, we’re giving up lay-ups. If you’re playing man-to-man defense, a lot of it is effort.”

Meanwhile, Thorsby last year won the girls county tournament as a No. 3-seeded sleeper.

Don’t be surprised if a similar script is followed this year.

The Rebels, though the girls tournament’s No. 1 seed, lost to graduation several contributors from last year’s squad and have been hampered early by injuries to starting guard Ashlin Hilyer and reserve Jessica Jackson. If the Rebels (5-5) stumble, this week’s tournament could belong to anyone.

Game 1: Verbena (No. 4 seed) vs. Maplesville (5)—6:30 p.m. Monday

Game 2: Chilton Co. (3) vs. Jemison (6)—6 p.m. Tuesday

Game 3: Thorsby (1) vs. Game 1 winner—6 p.m. Thursday

Game 4: Isabella (2)—Game 2 winner—6:30 p.m. Friday

Championship Game: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner—5 p.m. Saturday

Thorsby coach Wendy Fortner said her team definitely does not feel entitled to the title just because it won last year.

“They just kind of put that behind them,” Fortner said. “They know they’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Looking to dethrone the Rebs, among others, will be No. 2 seed Isabella.

“I feel like we’re as good as anybody in the county if we’ll play defense and do what we’re supposed to do,” Isabella coach Lanny Jones said.

Several other teams could make similar claims: No. 3 seed Chilton County High took Thorsby into overtime in last year’s championship game and has probably not yet played its best basketball. No. 4 seed Verbena this season won a game for the first time in several years and can dominate down low with the tandem of Marquiska Deramus and Imma Sanders. No. 5 seed Maplesville won the two tournament championships before Thorsby last season and is perhaps the biggest unknown coming into the event, which begins Monday, because the Red Devils have played only three games.

And that is another factor that could add to the tournament’s parity. Half of the county’s six teams – Jemison, Thorsby and Verbena – haven’t played since mid-December because of the holidays. Teams have practiced, but will they will enter the tournament rested or rusty?