Keller earns MVP

Devilyn Keller earned tournament MVP for the Fighting Tigers. Keller scored 15 points, including the go-ahead basket late in the fourth quarter.

Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

ALPINE -- Talladega County Central used a late run to defeat archrival Winterboro 62-51 in the Class 1A, Area 7 championship game Thursday night at Winterboro High School. The win snapped TC Central’s three-game losing streak to Winterboro.

The Fighting Tigers will host the loser of the Maplesville/Ellwood Christian game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the 1A Northeast sub-regional.

“This is my first one and it feels good,” TC Central head coach Acardia Garrett said. “I told the kids coming in that it was going to be a dog fight and we had to stick in there. We got down once and we just had to stay calm. We had to get a stop and get a bucket. We were able to do that and we were able to get a couple of steals out of our press in the second half. Devilyn Keller made a few big shots towards the end of the game, and we were able to salt it away at the free throw line.”

Finishing close games has been an issue for TC Central this season, but that wasn’t the case Thursday night as they outscored Winterboro 15-4 down the stretch.

With the score tied at 47-all with 1:59 left in the game, TC Central turned to their seniors to make plays and they delivered.

Keller came up big for TC Central. The senior sharp shooter gave TC Central a 49-47 lead with 1:28 left in the game with a jumper. On the ensuing trip down the court, drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to increase TC Central’s lead to 52-47. Keller, who was selected the MVP for the tournament, finished with 15 points.

“It was a big game,” Keller said. “In practice, we have been working on our jump shots just about the entire practice and it finally showed that we have been practicing. At the end of the season, we finally came together and learned how to finish.”

With time winding down, Winterboro was forced to foul and try to extend the game. TC Central went 9-for-10 in the final minute to seal the game.

Darrell Maple was clutch for the Fighting Tigers as he scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. The majority of his points came from the line going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe to seal the victory in the final 54 seconds.

”Clutch is a big word for this team,” Maple said. “We were always up in the first half, but we didn’t know how to close the game. This game we were up in the first half, but tonight we were determined to come out and close this game. We knew that we were the better team and tonight the seniors came together. We played with intensity, we played defense and shot free throws. I shoot free throws every day trying to make myself better for games just like this.”

Turnovers and empty possessions hurt late as well as throughout the second half, to the dismay of Winterboro head coach Sheroderick Smith.

Winterboro led by eight at halftime, 30-22, but TC Central made a 13-3 run to take the lead 35-32 in the third quarter. The Bulldogs took a 40-36 lead into fourth quarter.

“TC outplayed us in the second half,” Smith said. “Devilyn did what he does, he makes big shots. We held him scoreless in the first half, but he came alive. He was getting clear 3-point shots. You can’t leave him open. They made their free throws, they deserved to win. We made a lot of mental mistakes; we didn’t go to RJ Burns once in the third quarter. We went in halftime up by eight, but we end up losing by 11. Mental mistakes and not doing what’s in the game plan for us. Hats off to TC. Coach (Garrett) did a good job of adjusting in the second half.”

Winterboro will travel to take on the winner of Maplesville/Ellwood Christian game Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the 1A Northeast sub-regional.