STATE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Cold Springs, Hanceville preparing for Final 4 matchups

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Cold Springs’ Elizabeth Hill (3) and Hanceville’s Tyson Bellmon (10) will help lead their respective teams in the state semifinals next week. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The 2020 AHSAA State Basketball Tournament tips off Monday at the BJCC in Birmingham and there will be a strong local presence at this year’s event. The Hanceville Bulldogs are riding a huge wave of momentum into the final four after knocking off the top-ranked Piedmont Bulldogs and Midfield Patriots in dramatic fashion to win the Northeast Regional and the Cold Springs Lady Eagles are back in Birmingham to defend their state title.

Cold Springs will face the Central-Hayneville Lady Lions Monday night at 6 and Hanceville will be taking on the Bulldogs of Pike County Tuesday morning at 10:30.

(18-12) Hanceville v. (22-5) Pike County: Class 3A Boys Semifinal

The Pike County Bulldogs have defeated Dadeville, Pike Road and Slocomb on their way to Birmingham and have benefited from a long and athletic front line this season. Hanceville Head Coach Stephen Chandler knows that will be the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs Tuesday morning and the plan will be to keep them away from the rim as much as possible and force them to play on the perimeter.

“They have one guy that’s 6’8” or 6’9” and they have another kid that’s 6’4” or 6’5” and they’re really athletic. They really crash the offensive boards well and those two guys on the back end defensively do a really nice job of protecting the rim. It would be big for us if we can find a way to get there and finish,” Chandler said. “They get up and down really well and they defend really well too. We’ve got to keep those two guys in check and keep them off the offensive glass. We want to be able to get them stopped before they get to the rim and make them have to play on the perimeter a little more instead of getting shots around the goal.”

This season has already become one that Hanceville fans will never forget, winning thrillers in the sub-regional round and in both of their Northeast Regional games but the Bulldogs still have more to play for.

“We’re trying to go and just play the next one and that’s kind of the big thing we’ve done this whole time. It’s hard because we want them to have that final four experience and just kind of enjoy the moment, but we’ve still talked a lot about having an opportunity to be here and win, not just to have fun,” Chandler said. “We have an opportunity to go make some noise and see what happens, so we just try to remind that of that while also reminding them to be thankful.”

The Bulldogs are perhaps the biggest overachievers at this year’s state tournament and punching their ticket to the state finals with a win over Pike County would only make this season more miraculous.

(29-4) Cold Springs v. (25-3) Central-Hayneville: Class 2A Girls Semifinal

The Lady Eagles of Cold Springs are in a very different position than the Hanceville Bulldogs. As the defending state champions, they have a target on their backs and took the best shots Hatton and Tanner could give them in the Northwest Regional. Now they’ll face Central-Hayneville Monday with a chance to return to the state finals.

Cold Springs Head Coach Tammy West has a lot of experience coaching in this game and this year she has a team with experience playing in it too. Several Lady Eagles currently on the roster were part of last year’s state title run and West can still see that focus and poise in this year’s team as well.

“I can just tell a difference in them in their confidence level. They’re just so focused and I think it’s because they know exactly what to expect next week so there’s really no unknowns out there for them,” West said. “They’re just excited to be able to get to go back and they know how much fun they had last year. Of course, we won last year and that made it a whole lot more fun but its juts a great experience for them to be able to go back down there and have another chance at being able to repeat.”

The Lady Lions narrowly edged Aliceville 64-63 Wednesday but blew past Washington County and R.C. Hatch with ease. West has seen Central-Hayneville play this season and sees a well-rounded, athletic team that can defend and is improving.

“They’re a really good team. They’re very athletic, they’ve got a couple of big girls, they’ve got a really good guard and they had some girls Wednesday hit some shots that I had not seen hit shots on any of the other films I had but they were hitting some shots,” West said. “They’ve got a really good record and they really play hard and get after it and put a lot of pressure on you.”

Despite losing a lot of talent from last year’s championship team, this year’s edition of the Lady Eagles are still alive and defending their crown. West knows that most people wouldn’t have expected Cold Springs to make it back to Birmingham this season but even she has been impressed with way her team has answered the bell.

 “We lost some really good players last year and not only were they great players, some of them were great role players, great shooters and they were also leaders. So, you’re always a little bit worried about how you’re going to respond the next year, but these girls haven’t missed a beat,” West said. “We’ve had a great season so far and we’re just really excited about being able to get back down there.

The Lady Eagles will be on the floor to take on the Lady Lions Monday night at 6 and if they can find a way to win against another great team, they’ll have a chance to repeat as state champions Friday.

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