With every reason in the world to feel dejected, Central High coach Bobby Wright was unusually upbeat during post-game interviews following his team’s 70-42 loss to Mountain Brook High in the semifinals of the Class 7A Final Four tournament in Birmingham last week. And, he had every reason in the world to feel that way as well.
The Red Devils certainly had the worst performance of the season – including their worst first and second half performances in years – but, the 21-5 Central squad that went unranked all season was there in the Final Four.
“There are a lot of teams in this state that would like to be where we are right now,” Wright said in his post-game interview. “We stated this season with all these football players and did not know what we would do as a team. We had a lot of distractions, good distractions for the kids who played football. I don’t think we had a week where we had all of our players at a game on the weekends. We worked with the kids to see that they got the opportunity to make the trips to colleges so that they could make good decisions about their futures. We were not going to deny them that. But, we were not able to develop any consistency as a team. We could never get the chemistry right. You have to have a unit that works together. We just beat other teams because we had very good athletes. We had good kids.
“Mountain Brook has a team of basketball players who worked together all season and it showed today. Things did not go very well for us as we had hoped, but the team we played had something to do with that. We gave out of gas. Our rotation of players wasn’t as large as their rotation.”
The Spartans got 22 points from its substitutes off the bench while Central got four points.
“To have a chance today, we knew we had to play good defense. We did that for a half. We certainly did not have the shooters they had,” Wright said. “For us to make the Final four in two of the last three seasons is very impressive. We were the smallest of the 7A teams at the table. The other three teams were from communities of 200,000 people or more. We came from a community of about 35,000.”
Wright ended the year with 622 victories as a coach for the Red Devils over the course of 29 years. He says he has at least one more season left in him.
“We will be back working to get back here as soon as we can start. We have some kids coming back that have some talent. We will be all right. I don’t know where I will get the rest of the players for next year. I have some younger players coming up. I am sure we will have some football players again, but not as many. I may have to roam the halls at school to find the rest, but we will have a team that will represent Central High that our community can be proud of,” Wright said.
No. 1 ranked Mountain Brook, 34-4, rolled past Central in the semifinals and then routed a 27-4 No. 5 ranked McGill-Toolen High team 73-49 in the championship game two days later. McGill-Toolen rallied from a 16-point deficit to win its semifinal contest with No. 4 ranked Sparkman High in overtime 64-61. While the final score between McGill-Toolen and Mountain Brook was closer than the final score between the Spartans and Red Devils, the game was not. The Spartans jumped ahead for a 17-2 lead in the first quarter and led 19-6 at the end of the first eight minutes. By halftime, Mountain Brook led 37-18. The Spartans led by as many as 29 points in the third quarter and finished the quarter leading 58-31. McGill-Toolen won the final eight-minute period 18-15 as the Spartans brought their starters to the bench.
Central trailed Mountain Brook 9-2 before rallying for an 11-9 lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter. The Red Devils led 17-15 at the end of the period on a pair of Tremaine Porter shots in the final 56 seconds. The game remained tight until the 4:53 mark of the second quarter when Central’s Justyn Ross, who was covering the state’s top player Trendon Watford, got his third foul and was brought to the bench with the score tied at 20-20. Watford scored the next five points of the contest to give the Spartans a 25-20 lead – a lead it would not surrender for the rest of the day. Mountain Brook led 28-22 at halftime.
Mountain Brook scored five points in the first 41 seconds of the second half to lead by double digits, 33-22, and from there it mounted up to a 19-point lead with 3:19 left in the quarter at 50-31. By the end of the quarter, Central had whittled the Spartans’ lead to 14 points at 54-40. Central scored its final two points of the game with 6:31 to play on a Donald Jackson shot that left the score at 58-42. Mountain Brook then went to a delay offense and dribbled away most of the final time while making free-throws and uncontested lay-ups until a final three-point shot was given to the Spartans for goal-tending by Central. With 46 seconds left, Watford skied for a one-handed slam to finish his day with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
DeAnthony Miles and Jackson were Central’s leading scorers with 11 points each. Porter finished with 10 points – all coming in the first half. Miles had six rebounds while Ross had five for the Red Devils in the loss.