Southside boys claim Etowah County tournament title


Southside’s Drew Mullinax drives past Hokes Bluff’s Matthew Watkins during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)


Southside’s boys high school basketball team is the Etowah County tournament champion for the fourth time in six years under coach Kevin Troup.

The Class 5A Panthers withstood an early run by Class 4A, No. 6 Hokes Bluff to lead most of the second half in a 53-48 win over the Eagles in the championship game of the county tournament Saturday night at Gadsden State’s Beck Field House.

The Eagles (15-5) scored the first nine points of the game, but Southside (14-5) rallied to take the lead into the second quarter. The Panthers rarely relinquished their advantage after that, despite Hokes Bluff’s persistent attempts to regain it.

“It’s great to bring the trophy back on the other side of the bridge where it belongs,” Troup said. “I’m proud of the kids and the coaching staff. This team is gelling at the right time. I’m glad at how hard they’ve worked. The camaraderie is there, the coaching staff is there. We’re growing each and every night right in front of our eyes.”

For much of the game, Hokes Bluff’s 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas battled foul trouble, which was part of Southside’s game plan, Troup said.

“We knew we had to go at the big kid (Haas),” he said. “He’s a dominant player and such a good player. There were certain things we tried to do to attack him. We got him in foul trouble, and then we knew we could attack the rim.”

Haas managed just two points in the game, while missing all three of his free-throw attempts.

“Isaac getting in foul trouble took us out of what we were trying to do a little bit,” Hokes Bluff coach Greg Watkins said. “We kept it close with him on the bench. I give our guys credit; they scrapped, our guys did a pretty good job and gave us a chance to win. It’s one of those deals where you just have to deal with it.”

Trailing by nine, Southside scored seven straight points.

With 57 seconds remaining in the first, Chris Leonhardt’s 3-point play put the Panthers up for the first time at 14-11. Jake Ingram scored for the Eagles to cut it to 14-13 heading into the second quarter. Matthew Watkins had six, first-quarter points for Hokes Bluff.

Southside continued its stout play into the second, going on a 9-2 spurt to go ahead 23-15 with 3:10 left until halftime. Hokes Bluff refused to go away, as Brad Robertson’s 3-point play with 9 seconds left in the quarter tied the game at 27 going into the break. Tanner Shields scored 10 points in the quarter for Hokes Bluff. He led the Eagles with 15 points.

After Jesse Fry started the third quarter with a bucket for Southside, Robertson drained a 3-pointer to put the Eagles on top 30-29, their first lead since the opening quarter. The two squads exchanged the lead several times before tournament MVP Drew Mullinax’s score gave the Panthers a 37-35 edge. Southside never trailed again, and led 43-40 after three quarters. Saige Benson poured in eight points in the quarter for the Panthers.

Shields hit a three to open the quarter and knot the game at 43. No tto be outdone, Mullinax immediately responded for Southside with a 3-pointer. Kyle Mann’s bucket staked the Panthers to a 48-43 lead.

Hokes Bluff got within two points, trailing 48-46, but Patrick Lister scored to push the margin back to four. With Southside leading 51-48, Shields missed a 3-pointer late. Leonhardt grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws with 7 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Mullinax had 15 points and three assists for the Panthers. Benson totaled 15 points and five rebounds. Leonhardt finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Mann handed out 10 assists.

Robertson scored 11 points, giving Hokes Bluff two players in double figures. Ingram chipped in eight points for the Eagles.