Shields leads Hokes Bluff past Southside for county tournament title


Hokes Bluff coach Jason Shields and the Eagles celebrate winning the Etowah County girls basketball tournament championship Saturday night against Southside. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)


It’s about belief.

The belief that a team will win when very few believe it’s possible. The belief that no matter the competition or venue, that team will step off the court with a victory.

Hokes Bluff believed in itself, and now everybody else does.

The Eagles won the Etowah County girls basketball tournament championship Saturday night, knocking off favored Southside 49-45 in a wildly entertaining contest at Gadsden State’s Beck Field House.

It was the second straight tournament title for Hokes Bluff (12-8). Last year, the Eagles were the favorite and won the championship while in the middle of a 17-game win streak. But this season, Southside (14-5) was the No. 1 seed and certainly was bigger, stronger and deeper than the Eagles.

But Carlie Shields and Co. overcame it.

“You always want to win a lot more when everybody thinks you’re not going to,” Shields said, who was named the tournament’s MVP after scoring 30 points against the Panthers. “We came in this year with everybody thinking we weren’t going to be that good because of last year we lost so many. We played for our seniors because we know they want it as much as we do.”

Hokes Bluff coach Jason Shields, Carlie’s dad, was all smiles following the win. While he really doesn’t buy into the underdog role, he said his team not having to deal with added pressure may have helped.

“Nobody was expecting them to do it, so that was a relief a little bit that they didn’t have the pressure of saying, ‘Hey, you gotta do it again,’” the coach said. “This is one of the best feelings I’ve had as a coach. They’ve been working their butt off, and I’ve been poking at them a little bit. As a coach, that’s what you want to see. You want to see it start paying off.”

As for being the underdog?

“I always tell them that what makes me so frustrated as a coach is that I expect to win every game,” coach Shields

said. “We play with the intentions of every time we step on that floor, we’re supposed to win that game. When they start believing in that, you win some you shouldn’t. And probably tonight, we won one we shouldn’t.”

Southside led by as many as 10 in the first half, but Hokes Bluff continued to chip away and eventually took a 29-27 lead on Hannah Evans’ layup early in the third quarter.

The lead changed hands several times throughout the third, but the Eagles took the lead for good at 38-36 on Shields’ fourth 3-pointer of the contest with 37 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Coach Shields was stunned when he learned his daughter ended the night with a career-high 30 points.

“Huh? She had 30? Are you kidding me? Thirty points, I can’t believe that,” he said. “Tonight, her effort, she’s got the will to win. She shows up every night with that will.”

The coach then became dad.

“She’s a special kid,” he said. “Not only here, but she does things right off the floor. That’s what I appreciate out of her, and she knows that. Basketball is something that’s just an extra in our life that we get to spend some time with.”

As for Southside, coach Kim Nails was proud of her team’s effort and felt as though it was either team’s game to win.

“There wasn’t much difference,” she said. “It was a great game, could have went either way. Hokes Bluff is a very good team, and I feel like we have a very good team. They just happened to be ahead at the end. And the effort was great on both ends.”

Nails also is seeing a transformation in her team.

“They’re at a point where the name on the front is more important than the name on the back,” she said. “We’re going to continue to be in more of these type games because we have developed into that. That takes a higher mentality than we’ve had before.”

Both teams began lighting up the nets by midway through the first quarter, but a 10-0 run by Southside spanning a little more than two minutes helped the Panthers gain control of the game early. Haley Troup and Beth Allen Smith made 3-pointers, while Smith added a layup and Sydney D’Eath hit a jumper during the spurt.

Southside led 12-2 before a timeout by Hokes Bluff, which seemed to calm the Eagles a bit. From that point, they matched the Panthers bucket-for-bucket the remainder of the opening quarter. Evans’ 3-pointer just before the buzzer cut Southside’s advantage to 22-16 heading into the second quarter.

After a jumper and free throw by Troup to begin the second quarter, Hokes Bluff outscored Southside 9-2 until halftime to pull within 27-25. Troup’s jumper was Southside’s lone field goal of the second quarter.

After a close third quarter, Hokes Bluff stretched its advantage to six points on three straight layups from Shields. Southside rallied over the next three minutes to pull within 46-45 on Molly Tucker’s layup with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Hokes Bluff made 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch and played solid defense to secure the win.

Tucker led Southside with 11 points and also pulled down nine rebounds. Troup, an eighth-grader, scored 10 points and had four assists, while both Smith and D’Eath scored seven points.

Shields did most of the damage for the Eagles, but Evans scored nine points. Elizabeth White pulled down 11 rebounds. Keisha Chapman scored three points and dished out four assists.