BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It’s been 20 years since the Hanceville Bulldogs were at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena to compete in the final four and they led the way at halftime but couldn’t keep pace with Pike County in the final frame and their historic postseason run came to and end with a 52-42 loss. Bulldogs Head Coach Stephen Chandler is proud of not only the impressive playoff run that his team has put together but the way they played hard and represented their school on the biggest stage Tuesday morning.
“I’m so proud of this team, the five seniors and the underclassmen. We just constantly fought to put ourselves in an opportunity to make any game a game. Today we went against a great player in (Andres) Burney and the whole final four moment wasn’t too big for us,” Chandler said. “We felt like we were ready, and I think my games came out and played with a lot of heart and effort and continued to fight through the end. We just kind of got stuck on a number and couldn’t get it going at times but I’m still just so proud of the guys and this year.”
This year’s Hanceville team will be remembered for its ability to win close games late and topple stronger opponents and Chandler has already seen that rub off his younger players. He believes this team and this senior class has shown that if you do things the right way, you can give yourself a chance to win every time you hit the floor.
“They represent our program so well. They’re so good with the small stuff; being on time, showing up, always putting in extra work and all that stuff and that rubs off on the younger guys so much. They always showed that we should have an opportunity and we should never give up,” Chandler said. “Tyson (Bellmon) has been in big places and made big shots, Cainon (Moore) at the end was going to keep fighting and Raiden (Morgan) fouls out but he’s the first one in the timeout that’s in everyone’s face telling them there’s no reason for their heads to be down because we have an opportunity.”
The game was scoreless for the first three minutes until Raiden Morgan buried a three from the left wing to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead and Cainon Moore scored inside to make it 5-0 midway through the opening period. Izayah Glenon scored at the rim through a foul to stretch the lead to 7-0 and Morgan laid one in to make it a 10-2 game with just under two minutes to play in the first. Pike County scored inside to cut the lead to five with a minute remaining in the quarter but Tyson Bellmon netted a pair from the free throw line to stretch the lead back to seven and the Bulldogs went into the second with a 12-7 advantage.
Moore dumped a pass to Morgan beneath the basket and he laid it in the make it 14-7 at the start of the second quarter. Bellmon knocked down two more from the line to keep Hanceville in front 17-11 with six minutes to play in the period but Pike County was able to trim the lead to two midway through the second. Another Moore bucket gave Hanceville a 20-16 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the half and Morgan rolled one in to make it 22-16 with less than a minute on the clock. Ethan Roberts scored on a fast break to stretch the lead to eight with 30 seconds to play in the half and the Bulldogs went into the locker room with a 24-18 lead at the break.
Pike County cut the lead to one early in the third quarter and took its first lead of the game with five minutes to play in the period, 25-24. The run continued for the Bulldogs of Pike County and Hanceville just couldn’t get shots to fall until Moore drove to the basket and laid one it stop the bleeding and cut the lead to 30-26 with less than two minutes remaining in the third. Bellmon dropped in a floater to make it a 2-point game with a minute to play in the period and Brodie Malcom knocked down a pair from the line to hold the lead to 32-20. Morgan laid one in to hold the lead to two with less than 30 seconds on the clock and the final frame began with Pike County on top 34-32.
Morgan tied the game at the free throw line at the start of the fourth quarter and knocked down two more the charity stripe to keep things knotted at 36 with six minutes remaining. Pike County pulled ahead 40-36 midway through the fourth but Glenon scored through a foul on the other end to make it a 2-point game. Six straight makes at the free throw line gave Pike County a 45-38 lead with three minutes to play and the lead grew to 10 with less than two minutes to play. Moore scored another bucket inside to make it 52-40 but the Bulldogs ran out of time and Pike County held on to win it 52-42.
Morgan led the way for Hanceville with 18 points in the loss. Moore posted 11, Bellmon finished with six, Glenon, Malcom and Roberts each added two and Zach Campbell scored one for the Bulldogs.
Raiden Morgan, Cainon Moore, Tyson Bellmon, Ethan Roberts and Matthew Cornelius will graduate and May and be missed next season but after the phenomenal postseason run they helped lead this year, the bar has been raised for the Bulldogs returning next year.
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