By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Last year’s showdown between Model Laboratory and Madison Southern at McBrayer Arena was one of the most exciting 44th District Tournament games in recent memory.
In the end, the Eagles prevailed in overtime, 72-63, in a semifinal game that was both memorable and also heartbreaking.
“It was incredible,” Southern coach Shane Buttry said of his team’s win last year.
The long-time rivals are set to meet again today in the semfinals — and both teams expect nothing less than another hard-fought battle between very evenly matched squads.
“I think it will be just as exciting this year,” Model coach Wes Scarberry said. “The regular-season game this year came right down to the buzzer. So, I expect another exciting one.”
Game time is set for 8:15 p.m. at McBrayer Arena. The winner advances to Friday’s championship game to take on Madison Central.
Southern (11-18) and Model (5-22) will also meet today in the girls district semifinal. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. and the winner will advance to Friday’s title game to take on Madison Central.
The most recent games between the Eagles (16-10) and Patriots (23-6) have been very entertaining.
The past three games have been decided by a total of 17 points.
In last year’s district semifinal, Model led for most of the game, but Southern grabbed its first lead — 40-39 — on a three-pointer by Chris Roberts with 6:15 remaining.
From there, the lead changed hands seven times, with the Eagles going up 55-53 with 43 seconds remaining on a basket by Tyler Abshear.
Damien Harris hit one-of-two free throws inside the final minute to tie the game and Southern used a 9-0 run in overtime to seal the victory.
When the teams met earlier this year (Jan. 8 in Richmond), there was another dramatic ending, but a different outcome.
Southern led by as much as 16 points, but the Patriots rallied at home for a 56-54 win. Senior guard A.J. Hammons scored the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left.
Model out-scored the Eagles 22-7 in the fourth quarter. The Patriots got a team-best 22 points from senior Jon Ballard, while Abshear led Southern with 19 points.
Southern missed 13 free throws in the loss.
“We’ve had our share of nail-bitters with them and it wouldn’t surprise me to go through it again (Thursday),” Buttry said.
Southern and Model have met in the semifinals of the 44th District Tournament in five consecutive years, with the Eagles winning the past four games.
The last three matchups in postseason play have all been decided by single digits.
The Patriots’ last win over Southern in the district tournament came in 2008 (59-51).
Model’s six seniors have played key roles in what has been a historic season. The Patriots have won a school-record 23 games and last month they advanced to the All “A” Classic State Tournament for the first time.
Still, these seniors have never advanced to the district title game and had the chance to play in the 11th Region Tournament.
“It would be a storybook ending for us,” Scarberry said of beating the Eagles. “Southern has beaten us four years in a row on that floor and (the seniors) have been a part of those games. Of course, this group has never played in the 11th Region Tournament and that’s a big goal for us.”
The biggest key to Model moving on will likely be stopping Abshear. The Southern point guard is averaging 22.2 points a game, a team-best 4.9 rebounds a game and 2.6 assists per game (second on the team).
“He had 30 points on us last year,” Scarberry said. “So, obviously, the bright lights aren’t going to bother him.”
Model has five players averaging in double figures, with Ballard — a senior guard/forward — averaging 17 points and eight rebounds. Hammons averages 15 points a game, Brendan Hill and Anthony Gerald average 11 points a game and junior Zack Rice-Gordon added about 10 points a game.
Lady Eagles-Lady Patriots
Model and Madison Southern will both be short-handed when they take the floor at McBrayer Arena for today’s 44th District semifinal.
The Lady Eagles lost two key performers — Rachel Ramey and Marley Lawson — to concussions last week, while the Lady Patriots have been without two of their better players for most of the season — Mallie Cornett and Madison Keene.
Model and Southern have already met three times this season, with the Lady Eagles winning each time. In those games, Southern has out-scored the Lady Patriots by an average margin of 22 points a game.
In the final regular-season meeting, the Lady Eagles defeated Model 74-39 on Feb. 1 in Richmond.
Southern is led by freshman forward Briana Lanham (12 points, nine rebounds a game), sophomore guard Samantha Parms (10 points a game) and sophomore forward Kelley Freeman (10 points a game).
Model is led by junior guard Darrian Botts and sophomore guard Hayley Hunt.
Southern and Model have met in the district semifinals in each of the past five seasons. The Lady Eagles have won four of those meetings (2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008), including a 61-53 win last year.