PREP BASKETBALL: Campbell’s game-winner sends Hanceville to first Final 4 since 1999

Hanceville celebrates after Zach Campbell's game-winner against Midfield in the Northeast Regional championship game. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – Things are never boring with the Hanceville Bulldogs. After escaping Locust Fork in overtime in the sub-regional and upsetting No. 1 Piedmont in double overtime Saturday night, the Bulldogs have done it again, toppling Midfield 56-54 on a game-winning shot by freshman guard Zach Campbell, who is already developing a reputation for his late-game heroics. A turnover by the Patriots gave Hanceville possession with just seven seconds remaining and Campbell brought the ball up the floor, cut into the Patriots defense and put up a floater as time expired to send the Bulldogs to Birmingham.

Campbell reflected on the game’s final possession and credited his team’s intensity on the defensive end for carrying them this far in the postseason.

“We just wanted to get it down the court because there wasn’t a lot of time and if they tried to collapse, I would’ve looked for a kick-out,” Campbell said. “We work on layups, power layups and shots every day and we preach defense. We love defense and that’s what keeps us in it.”

Hanceville Head Coach Stephen Chandler is excited for what this win means for the program but more than anything he’s proud of his team for the way they have fought and competed to stay alive and exceed expectations in the postseason.

“Man, it was just another gutty performance. We talked the whole time about having to fight to the end in the last two games and we knew today was going to be the same thing. We knew Midfield was athletic and long, but we felt like we could handle it,” Chandler said. “I’m just so proud of these guys. All eight of them we’ve got stepped in and helped us in some way, whatever it was. These guys keep fighting, keep putting themselves in a position to win and we just never feel like we’re out of it.”

Senior Cainon Moore wasn’t surprised that the Bulldogs found a way to pull it off again Wednesday. Hanceville has been playing in tight games all season and he believes that has been the key to he and his teammates remaining calm under pressure.

“We’ve been putting ourselves in this situation all year, so we know how to handle the pressure and how to handle the situation,” Moore said. “We just put our heads to it, put it together, didn’t break apart and went out there and did us. We finished and that was the big thing.”

Moore scored down low to tie the game at 2 early in the opening quarter and after Midfield built a 9-2 advantage, buckets by Raiden Morgan and Campbell cut the lead to three around the five-minute mark of the first. Morgan drained a three to tie the game at 9 with three minutes to play in the period and knocked down another one just before the buzzer to keep things knotted at 12 going into the second quarter.

Morgan’s third three-pointer of the half gave the Bulldogs a 16-15 lead early in the second and he, along with Moore, scored two more baskets inside to keep Hanceville in front by one midway through the quarter. Matthew Cornelius drove the baseline and laid one in to add to the lead, but the Patriots were able to respond and take a 25-24 lead with just over a minute to play in the period. The Bulldogs finished the half strong and after Campbell scored at the rim to hold the lead to one, Tyson Bellmon buried a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 29 going into the break.

Morgan knocked down a jumper to keep things tied at 31 to the start the third and baskets by Moore and Izayah Glenon gave Hanceville a four-point lead near the six-minute mark of the period. Another score by Glenon made it a 39-35 game midway through the third quarter and after a 6-0 run gave Midfield a two-point lead, Cornelius laid one in to tie the game at 41. Bellmon drained another three to give the Bulldogs a 44-43 lead with just over a minute to play in the third but the Patriots were able to move back in front 46-44 by the start of the fourth.

Another triple from Morgan gave Hanceville a 1-point lead at the start of the final period and Campbell dropped one in to stretch the lead to 49-46 with less than six minutes to play. A 6-0 run put Midfield back up 52-49 with just over three minutes remaining but Moore scored inside to cut the deficit to one. A Bellmon free throw made it a 54-52 game with two and a half minutes to play and Glenon added a pair from the line to tie things up at 54 with less than two minutes on the clock. An offensive foul against the Bulldogs gave the ball back to Midfield with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation but a travel gave possession right back to Hanceville with seven seconds to play. Campbell brought the ball up the floor, drove through the Patriots defense and got a floater to fall as time expired to complete Hanceville’s second major upset of the postseason.

Morgan led the Bulldogs with 19 points in the win, followed by Moore with 11 and Campbell with 10. Glenon and Bellmon each scored seven and Cornelius added two for Hanceville.

Moore and Morgan earned spots on this year’s Northeast Regional All-Tournament team and Morgan was named the tournament’s MVP.

Morgan feels some relief in getting past the Northeast Regional and knows that he and his teammates have put in the time and effort to reach the next stage and compete for a blue map.

“It’s big for us to finally get over that hump,” Morgan said. “We expected to be back here this year, but we had a lot more obstacles to go through and better teams, but I knew once we got here, we’d be good. Coach has been killing us every day and working on literally everything we can, and we were ready for it.”

The Bulldogs will be on the floor at the BJCC in Birmingham at 10:30 Tuesday morning to face Pike County in a final four matchup with a spot in this year’s 3A State Championship Game on the line.

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