Five Saks players scored in double figures, and the Wildcats beat Holly Pond 82-72 in the Northeast Regional Class 3A boys final Saturday in Jacksonville State University's Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Saks (17-7) advanced to the state semifinals in Birmingham for the first time since 2006. They will play Midfield on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the BJCC Arena.
They’ll do it led by players and the same head coach from the Saks football team that posted the school’s first 10-0 regular season, tied the school record with 13 victories and made the state semifinals in late November of 2013.
“I tell you what, it’s special,” said Miller, also Saks’ head football coach and the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s 3A coach of the year for 2013. “A lot of people coach a long time and don’t get the opportunity to make it to the semifinals.
“We’re close -- two wins away, same situation as football. We were very close to winning that thing in football, so a lot of our kids got to experience that. They know what it’s like to make it this far, and hopefully, that situation will help us right now.”
Saks’ football team lost 31-21 to top-ranked Madison Academy in the semifinals. That game saw an inadvertent whistle wipe a Saks touchdown off the scoreboard.
Northeast Regional 3A boys most valuable player Tre Smith, also Saks’ star quarterback from football season, said such experiences can help in Birmingham next week.
“I think we’ll fight through a lot more adversity,” he said. “We know what it feels like to step up and lose, so I don’t want to lose any more.”
Roc Green led Saks with 18 points Saturday, but the Wildcats got 17 from Darion Coleman, 15 apiece from Smith and Daniel Heard and 11 from Devin Harris.
Holly Pond (24-10) got 35 points from Colby Adams. Gunter Morris added 17, and Austin Smith had 11.
Holly Pond opened the game with a 10-2 spurt, but Miller called a 30-second timeout at 4:15 of the first quarter.
“I just thought we weren’t really doing anything right,” Miller said. “We just looked lethargic. I don’t know if we were nervous, but we were rushing everything on offense, weren’t communicating on defense, and I just thought, maybe if we got over here and got settled down a little bit, we’d be all right.”
The Wildcats controlled the game from there, making fast-paced Holly Pond slow down. Heard's layup off of Coleman's feed just before halftime gave Saks the lead for good, 33-31.
The Wildcats built an 11-point lead on Green's jumper at the end of the third quarter and led by as many as 12 points twice in the fourth quarter.
The same Holly Pond team that got off 67 shots in its 87-78 victory over Weaver in Thursday’s 3A semifinals got off 57 shots against Saks. The Broncos scored 179 combined points in two games to win this tournament a year ago.
“We knew coming in that we didn’t want to get into a track meet with these guys,” Miller said. “I was exhausted after watching them and Weaver play the other night, just in the upper deck watching.
“Luckily for us, the first half went at a pace that wasn’t too fast, and I thought that we were not tired at halftime. Then, in the third quarter, we kind of stretched out the lead a little bit.”
Saks hit 25 of 31 free throws to keep its distance, and Heard finished the game with a fast-break dunk. It was his fourth dunk of the regional.
“It didn’t go like we wanted it, especially second quarter on,” Holly Pond coach Mitch Morris said. “We never did get in a rhythm.
“Fourth quarter, we put ourselves in position to regain the lead, but Saks kept on making free throws.”
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.
Video of the all-tournament team announcement and the trophy presentation to Saks: