It is, however, the team that has won the tournament the past three years.
Oxford, which lost 10 seniors from a year ago and entered the tournament with five victories, jumped out to a comfortable lead in the second quarter and answered No. 1-seeded Weaver’s second-half run to win their quarterfinal game 73-68 on Wednesday.
The Yellow Jackets (6-17) advanced to play Sacred Heart in Friday’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “Because of what we’ve been through and because of the competition level we’ve played, they’ve gotten themselves ready to go, and they believe.”
Oxford believes in guard Deon Wright, the lone player with varsity experience coming into this season. He scored a game-high 21 points Wednesday despite foul troubles.
But the Yellow Jackets also got 14 points from freshman Querriun Mason, 13 from freshman Ja’Kolbe McClendon, 10 from junior Kaleb Kidd and nine from junior Solomon Shadrix.
Oxford started the year 0-4 against Hoover, Spain Park, Vestavia Hills and Albertville. The Class 6A Yellow Jackets beat 2A Westbrook Christian, then lost six in a row against 6A competition. They lost three in a row coming into the tournament.
But basketball is all about hitting stride at the right time, and it just seems right for Oxford to hit its stride in the county tournament.
From late in the first quarter until halftime, the Yellow Jackets broke a 15-15 tie and outscored Weaver 27-12 to lead 42-27 at halftime. They did it with Wright getting out in the break and a 2-3 zone defense that kept Weaver from gaining offensive rhythm.
“Our game plan was, no matter what, we had to squeeze the middle,” Wright said.
Weaver (13-5) shot 33 3-point attempts, hitting nine.
“We got away from what we do well,” Weaver coach Daryl Hamby said. “Our thing is penetration, going to the goal, using our speed and quickness. We shot too many 3s. Thirty-three 3-point attempts is way too many.”
Still, Weaver got 17 points from Timothy Hawkins, 16 from Chris English and 15 from Shon'D McKinney and rallied, outscoring Oxford 19-8 in the third quarter. The Bearcats could have had more but got no points after forcing four quick turnovers in one stretch, including three in a row.
Weaver finally caught Oxford when Hawkins made good on a DeAngelo Forbes feed to make it 52-52 with 5:50 to play, but a young Oxford team scored seven unanswered points and hung tough down the stretch.
“It means a lot,” Wright said. “It’s a little different, playing with all the younger guys, but it shows that our program, after some guys moved on, we have people stepping up, ready and making plays.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.