The Cleburne County Tigers took two seniors (Tatiana Ervin and Alex Casey), two juniors (Briana Roberts and Abby Lee), five freshmen (Alisia Persons, Micha Pentacost, Olivia McDaniel, Kendall Houston and Haven Freeman) and one eighth-grader (Brooklyn McDaniel) into Friday’s play date games for the girls’ varsity team at home. Senior-to-be Chelsea Parker is recovering from surgery to repair an injury and did not play.
“I thought, overall, to be so young they did a real good job. They executed the offense really well, had a lot of good looks at the basket. They all wouldn’t go in but we had a lot of good looks,” head coach Todd Gable said Tuesday evening. “I thought the defense, for what we put in, was real good. They ran the floor well. They were in better shape than I thought we were in, too, so that surprised me. Overall, I was pleased. I thought it was good to be their first action with only like a week of practice.”
The Tigers opened against B.B. Comer, a team Gable described as “real aggressive.” An improved Woodland team was Cleburne County’s second and final opponent on Friday.
“We jumped on them early then had to hang on to win that one,” Gable said of the Bobcats.
Roberts and Pentacost are returning to basketball after not playing for several seasons. Gable said he and assistant coach Ron Ervin were pleased with the way both Pentacost and Roberts performed Friday.
“They’re really going to help us this year,” Gable said.
The play date games were also a financial success. Concession sales exceeded $300 after “more people than we expected” bought all the candy and pizza.
Gable said all the coaches who brought teams to Heflin told him they would be back next year if the Tigers decide to host more play date games in 2018.
“Hopefully, we can make it an every summer thing,” Gable said.
The Ranburne girls were 5-0-1 in their final six basketball play date games at Champions Sports Academy in Alexandria on June 21-22. The Bulldogs had wins over Lincoln and Westbrook Christian and a tie with Weaver on the 21st then downed Ragland, Etowah and Ohatchee on the 22nd.
Against Ragland, the final score was 42-30 as the Bulldogs opened the second 20-minute half with a 10-0 run. Ranburne defeated Class 5A Etowah 45-19 after leading 18-11 at intermission. Against Ohatchee, the Bulldogs pulled away to a 51-31 victory after leading 27-19 at halftime.
All 10 of the players veteran head coach Tim Smith expects to make up his 2017-18 varsity roster – senior Jesse Ralston, junior Erica Lovvorn, sophomores Jasey Langley and Chaney Merrill, freshmen McKenzye Ivey, Julianna Merrill, Natalie Merrill and Kayli Olds, eighth-grader Lila Forsyth and seventh-grader Briley Merrill – were at the Champions play dates and Smith substituted five players at a time about every five minutes during the two days.
“Jesse is such a presence. She’s been starting since seventh grade. I can kind of interchange her with both groups. She’s a catalyst. She keeps everything moving,” Smith noted Tuesday.
June practices and play dates have ended but the work involved in getting better hasn’t stopped.
“I keep stressing the fact that games are won in the offseason,” Smith said. “When we finished our camps last Thursday, I said, ‘We’re a work in progress. We’ve got to keep working.’”
For his part, Smith will open the gym regularly to give players an opportunity to shoot and work on ball-handling skills. He said that even on days when the players lift weights for an hour then spend another hour doing agility drills they want to remain for an hour of shooting.
“That’s the kind of attitude you want, the kind of work ethic you enjoy being around. … Right now, I just feel like everybody’s on the same page when it comes to knowing what it takes to get better and try to get to the next level,” Smith concluded.
Ranburne varsity boys’ basketball coach Dustin Smith worked with 11 players during June practices and play dates.
“I was proud of them. They worked hard,” Smith said of the group.
Zach Benefield and Ireland Morgan return from last year’s squad and will be the elder statesmen this year as the only seniors.
“We’ve got nine juniors now and all of them are going to put in some good quality time,” Smith said Tuesday evening. “I’ve been coaching them since they were in the seventh grade.”
Rising juniors who played on the varsity last year as sophomores are Jake Burson, Devon Chambers, Sammy Green, Josh Ralston and Brock Young. Joining them are classmates Brady Bailey, Dalton Gibbs, Brett Maddox and Jackson Pollard.
“The problem is that we don’t have any size this year so what we worked on starting out was defensive skills, boxing out, rebounding and pushing it down the court … getting a quick shot and running to the glass and then sprinting back on defense,” Smith said.
Other than a few inbounds plays in case an opponent pressed, Smith didn’t work on set plays during the June play dates.
“We learn to play together. We learn to pass the ball, not be selfish, and I sub five in and five out. I hardly ever have what I think is going to be my starting five out there together during the summer. … They all need to play during the summer to get better. Working on skills, working to get better as a team, that’s what we work on,” he said.
Smith said that when basketball ended for the summer last week he could see improvement in the Bulldogs and sensed the players could tell they were better, too.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ll work on pressing next year. I’ve got a lot of kids that can run, they’re all 5-6 and 5-7 though, but they can run so we’re going to work on pressuring the basketball a little bit. Overall, I was pleased with our effort. They play hard for me,” Smith said.