Bulldogs will battle Vikings

Shaun Vincent and the Bulldogs will take on Skyline tonight at Jacksonville State University.

ALPINE -- Winterboro High School’s boys basketball team will travel to Pete Mathews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University for a Class 1A Northeast Regional Tournament showdown with Skyline tonight at 7:30.

The Bulldogs earned their first trip to the Sweet 16 since the 2015-16 season with a 79-56 victory over Jacksonville Christian Academy on Tuesday.

“We’re blessed to be one of the three schools in the county, and only one of the actual (Talladega County Schools), to be in the Sweet 16,” Winterboro head coach Sheroderick Smith said. “Every game is hard. You don’t know what team has a certain motivation. You don’t know what team has a certain goal to play for. You don’t know which senior has decided that this wasn’t going to be his last game. There are several motivating factors that can go into any given thing.”

Smith said his team has been blessed by former players visiting the squad and sharing some words to help prepare the Bulldogs for the moment that’s in front of them.

“We just can’t have enough of that,” Smith said. “We’ve promised ourselves that we’re going to play as hard as we can, let the chips fall where they may and use what we feel are our strengths.”

He added it’s tough to draw comparisons between his squad and the Vikings, who are ranked No. 5 in 1A.

“I do know that they’re big and long,” Smith said. “They’re patient on offense. Whatever you give them, they counter it. They try to make you pay in the half court, and they’re very good at it. They shoot the ball way better than us.

“They’re not a Top 10-ranked team for nothing. I know they’re battle tested. They’ve got about six quality wins and they’ve got three quality losses. Those quality wins, it means something when you’re trying to go to the Final Four.”

Smith said his team will have to stick to its game plan and its strengths against Skyline and noted he’s expecting strong performances from players who stepped up big in Tuesday’s game.

“I think Josh Tanner and Brandon Dandridge are going to continue to be the players that they need to be,” Smith said. “Josh had a great game for us (Tuesday), and he led the team in scoring. His confidence level and what he brings defensively is going to be a good key for us. Brandon’s presence on the inside and the things I’ve asked him to do will be helpful as well.”

Having Dandridge and senior Nyles Ashley, the tallest players on the squad at 6-foot-4, gives the Bulldogs some length to counteract Skyline’s size advantage.

“That’s why we run the 1-3-1 zone, so we can use our length,” Smith said. “In certain cases, Nyles is definitely a sixth man for us. He can come in and defend a guard or center. … He’s came along as well lately.”

Bulldog senior Shaun Vincent said he was looking forward to competing in the Sweet 16.

“It’s a great opportunity because this is my first time ever going to the Sweet 16,” he said. “When they went (in 2016), I was a freshman. I didn’t really get to go. I just experienced it. It’s a great experience to get to play in the Sweet 16.”

Smith said while his team was happy to reach this point, he didn’t set any hardline goals at the recommendation of assistant head coach Elton Ashley.

“Our (focus) was on more intangible things like stay more committed, pick up our basketball IQ and invest into more film-watching,” Smith said. “The guys really don’t have a problem with the weight room. They picked up their energy as well, so honestly, we didn’t set goals.

“Sometimes, we’ve seen some teams that win state (that) didn’t even really believe it from the beginning. It’s not that we didn’t believe -- we just chose to not look ahead. That idea came from Coach Ashley. He said, ‘Coach, do not look ahead this year.’ I’ve looked ahead the past few years and came out on the short end.”