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Sand Rock boys overcome Westminster’s slower pace, advance to first regional final since 2011

Staff Reports

BIRMINGHAM – The Westminster of Oak Mountain Knights tried to prevent fourth-ranked Sand Rock from playing its style of ball Friday night, but the fourth-ranked Wildcats overcame the slower pace to post a 49-33 victory in Class 2A Northeast Regional semifinal action on Friday night.

Friday’s win secures Sand Rock’s first Northeast Regional final berth since 2011. The Wildcats (24-5) will face top-ranked Midfield (23-6) on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.

“I’m extremely proud,” Sand Rock coach John Blackwell said. “Westminster had a good game plan. They were very methodical with their offense. You could probably call it a stall. They didn’t just sit out there and hold the ball. They had an offense where they made a lot of passes, but the guys handled a different atmosphere, handled a different situation, handled being on the road.”

One of key stat for Sand Rock from Friday’s contest was free-throw shooting. The Wildcats were 13-of-16 from the free-throw line for the game, and 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the final 2:15.

“Every year we shoot free throws pretty well, but it seems like we really have here lately,” Blackwell said. “Three games ago, we were 19-of-20, last game 18-of-22, this time 13-of-16. It has nothing to do with coaching. That’s just guys getting in there and taking their time, putting extra time in the gym, being mentally focused, and shooting the ball. These guys do that. They put the time in, put the work in, and it’s paying off for them.”

Garyn Sharpe led the Wildcats with 12 points and six rebounds. Xander Bradley added 11 points, eight boards and five blocks. Jacob St. Clair rang for 10 points. Cade Ballenger came away with eight points and seven assists. Kaden Justice finished with eight points, nine rebounds.

With Westminster now behind them, the Wildcats have a few days to prepare for the Patriots. Midfield defeated second-ranked North Sand Mountain 92-85 in other regional semifinal action on Friday.

“We had to beat the No. 8 team (Spring Garden) to win the area championship. We had to beat the No. 6 team (Section) to get to this team. Now we play the No. 1 team to get to state,” Blackwell said. “From the beginning, we thought by the end of the year in the state’s top 10, about half the teams in 2A would be in the Northeast, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Our guys just need to go out there and play basketball, do what they’ve done all year and enjoy it. There’s no pressure on us. We just need to go out there and play basketball, and I think they will.”

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