Tigers to face team of this season's past
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
It was November 30, 2002.
Johnny Berry had just watched his Tigers get beat by one of the best teams in the state. He said, "We play teams like this to make us better come playoff time."
After his team blew a three point lead with less than :15 remaining in the game, he said "We learned a good lesson … It hurts, but I would rather us learn it now than later down the road."
By the way, the team Hartselle lost to is the same one it plays Friday in the Final Four – West End-Birmingham.
Now, with the game just hours away, Berry is confident his team has learned its lesson, and gotten much better.
"We're excited and we deserve to be there," he said of the Final Four. "It's going to be interesting against West End."
West End comes in to Friday morning's game as one of the toughest defensive teams in the state. Against Homewood in the Regional Championship, West End did not allow a two-point field goal, winning the game 42-20.
"They (West End) are playing as good of defense as anybody else in the state," Berry said. "But, they're the same team we saw in November."
Hartselle cannot afford to do what it has done in the past – fall behind.
West End has the tendency to sit on leads for several minutes at a time, forcing defenses to extend.
"We have to keep it within two or three possessions behind," Berry said. "If it gets any more than that, they will hold it and win 21-10. It makes no difference to them as long as they win."
Another key to victory is keeping West End off the offensive glass. In November, West End out-rebounded Hartselle 16-3 on the offensive end.
Enter senior center Gary Speegle.
See SPEEGLE, B-3
"We have to keep them off the boards," Berry said. "And we have to get a good shot everytime down the floor.
"Gary (Speegle) can be very effective for us if he stays out of foul trouble."
Should Speegle find himself in foul trouble, Berry will go with Keith Rodgers, a sophomore, as a reserve.
As usual, though, Berry will look to Zac Ward, Marlon Chapman, Tyler Reeves and Jason Crowe to knock down outside shots if the Tigers want to have a chance. Many have picked West End to win the state title.
For Berry, it's all about defense Friday.
"We're going to mix it up some," he said. "We are not an exclusively man-to-man team, and we're not exclusively a zone team either. We go into every game with the intentions of playing man, but we will play zone if we need to."
Hartselle may need to, as it will be severely out sized in the paint.
Again, that's nothing new.