Hokes Bluff boys hold off Westbrook in thriller


Hokes Bluff’s Isaac Haas dunks against Westbrook Christian during Thursday night’s game. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times)


Standing-room only. Deafening noise. A rowdy student section. And, most importantly, two of the most talented teams around.

Yep, just another Westbrook Christian-Hokes Bluff matchup.

The Class 4A, No. 4 Hokes Bluff Eagles got the best of it this time, holding off the Class 2A, second-ranked Westbrook Christian Warriors 45-42 in what was a thriller at Larry Fuhrman Court on Thursday.

It was a rubber match, of sorts, for these teams. Hokes Bluff beat Westbrook early in the season, with the Warriors (17-4) beating the Eagles in a tournament over the holidays.

Both coaches raved about the atmosphere.

“It’s a great environment for high school basketball,” said Hokes Bluff coach Greg Watkins, whose team improved to 21-5 on the season. “It’s a fun place to play, and our kids love it. (Westbrook) has a great following like we do.

“Packed house, a lot of excitement and both teams playing well. ... it’s just what high school basketball is all about.”

Westbrook coach Seth Ford said it had a playoff feel.

“They don’t back down from anything, and that’s why I schedule games like this against great teams with great players to get us ready for playoff time,” Ford said. “To me, this is about as close to a playoff atmosphere you can get for a regular-season game.”

Hokes Bluff center Isaac Haas proved too much to handle inside for Westbrook, as the 7-footer scored 27 points and essentially shut down the interior offense of the Warriors.

“No. 44. Notice him?” Ford said when asked about the difference. “How do you stop him? We tried everything we had. It just comes down to he’s a 7-foot-1, outstanding basketball player who there’s just no way to stop. He was the difference for sure.”

Still, Westbrook led by as many 10 points in the second half and had chances to either pull off the win or send it to overtime.

Trailing 43-41 with just 10 seconds to go, Jerryn Migliore grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He missed the front end, but made the second free throw to pull the Warriors within 43-42.

A foul on the ensuing inbounds sent Hokes Bluff’s Brack Shields to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1 opportunity. He missed the first free throw, was fouled and then hit both of his shots from the charity stripe to give Hokes Bluff a 45-42 advantage with just 8.2 left.

Westbrook’s Colin Edwards’ shot from near half court hit the rafters, giving Hokes Bluff the ball near midcourt with just a second to go, but a miscue on the inbounds play gave it right back to the Warriors.

Kyle Leonard got a good look from the top of the key to try to force overtime, but his shot rattled in and out as the buzzer sounded.

“They’re just relentless,” Ford said of his team. “What I like about them, they’ve been in enough big games that nothing intimidates them — whether it be a 6A team, a great 1A team or a team with a 7-foot-1 center.”

Edwards, the two-time Gadsden Times’ Player of the Year and one of the county’s top scorers this season, tallied 14 points and had to earn every one of them with Phillip Ward in his face on defense.

“Phillip is a tremendous defensive player,” Watkins said. “It’s nice to have somebody like him that can slow down somebody’s scoring, because Colin Edwards is an exceptional scorer.

“I can’t say enough good things about Phillip. He’s had to guard (Edwards) three times this year, and I know for a fact he sleeps well each night we’ve played them.”

Shields scored 12 points for Hokes Bluff.

Migliore had eight points, while Leonard added six for the Warriors.