With the win, the second seed Fighting Tigers advance to play top seed Talladega tonight at Sylacauga for the championship game at 7:30 p.m.
Asked how he would try to prepare his team for the defending county champions, TC Central head coach Damien Dorsey responded, “Talladega has had our number, so I don’t have to say much really. It’s a rival game; we’re going to be playing hard. The gym is going to be packed, so we’re going to be ready.”
In the first half, TC Central went early and often to post player Lamar Suttle. Suttle finished with 17 points in the first half, which accounted for more than half the team’s points during the first half.
“Lamar has really bought in,” Dorsey said. “He’s coming to practice with a mindset. He’s getting better every day. So, we had to get him inside. He got going early; established us inside, so it opened up the outside guys.”
The entire first half was close between the two teams.
Third seed Sylacauga jumped out to an early 6-2 lead. Jonathan Crawford scored the first points of the game with a post basket utilizing the backboard. He capped the drive with another basket inside the post.
The two teams traded baskets for most of the remainder of the quarter.
TC Central gained momentum with a 6-0 run at the end of the quarter. Suttle knocked down a turnaround jumper, hit one of two free throws, and finished the run with a 3-point play to give TC Central a 15-13 first quarter lead.
Trailing 23-19, Sylacauga was able to use a 7-0 run to regain the lead. Daveon Nix hit two free throws and Hayden Ellis capped the run with a 3-pointer to give Sylacauga a 26-23 lead.
Cededrick Garrett scored the final points of the first half with a transition layup to cut the Sylacauga lead to 33-31. The largest lead for both teams during the first half was four points.
In the second half, TC Central continued to attack the post but by way of their back court driving inside.
The Fighting Tigers trailed 43-40 in the third quarter when they went on a 12-2 run to finish the quarter. Suttle hit one of two free throws and then Garrett converted a 3-point play to give TC Central a 44-43 lead. Tervarus Garrett scored the final points of the quarter with a jumper while driving inside, giving TC Central a 52-45 lead.
Later in the fourth with the team still holding a seven-point lead of 61-54, Crystyle Stockdale guided the Fighting Tigers on a 10-2 run. First, he hit a baseline jumper and then converted two back-to-back 3-point plays. Suttle capped the run with another basket in the post to give TC Central a 71-56 lead.
Sylacauga responded with five unanswered points as the clock ticked down to the two-minute mark with TC Central leading 71-61.
Stockdale continued to be clutch, coming up with a steal and ensuing layup with 1:29 to play to give TC Central a 74-62 lead. As the game neared the one-minute mark, Stockdale sank three of four free throws to secure the win for TC Central.
“He took over,” Dorsey said. “He wanted to be one of the best players in the county; he says he is, so that’s what the best players have to do. He went in and he took over, even though sometimes I was saying ‘No, no, no.’ He was saying ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and he turned out to be right. So, sometimes coaches are wrong, too.”
Stockdale scored 26 of his game-high 29 points in the second half.
“It’s a team effort,” Stockdale said. “I never have anything to prove. Whatever happens happens. We played as a team and came out with the win. I’m satisfied with that.”
TC Central has lost in their three previous meetings against Talladega this season, but Stockdale thinks if his team can play sound basketball, they can win the game.
“They beat us three times, but I feel like we have the momentum,” he said. “We’re not scared to play them. We can play with them. It’s just we’ve got play with a level head. We’ve got big things going. I feel like we’re going to win.”
Suttle was also in double figures, finishing the game with 25 points.
Rodney Gilbert led Sylacauga with 19 points. Hayden Ellis hit five 3-pointers for 15 points.