KIMBERLY—They were shorthanded and forced into playing a slower tempo than normal, but that would not stop the Mortimer Jordan girls basketball team (23-9) from winning their second consecutive Class 5A, Area 11 Tournament championship on Thursday night in Kimberly.
The Blue Devils experienced their lowest point total in a month, but grinded out a 45-36 victory over Jasper to secure the area crown and lock up home-court advantage next Monday night in the Northwest Sub-Regional. Area 9 runner-up Fairfield, who lost 76-39 to Pleasant Grove on Thursday, will be the opponent.
“We’re an up-and-down-the-floor team and we couldn’t do that tonight; we couldn’t create any turnovers, we had to just play straight-up man [defense] and that played into their hand,” said Mortimer Jordan head coach Kelly Robinson. “I was really proud of our girls for hitting some big shots when they had to and being discipline enough to know how to finish. This is their fourth area championship game in a row. They’ve been here.”
With multiple girls out of the lineup, Robinson had to manage a shorter bench on Thursday night. He compensated by milking the final four-plus minutes off the fourth-quarter clock, protecting a single-digit lead. Mortimer Jordan would attempt a few shots during that final stretch, but the team’s final made field goal came on their first possession of the fourth quarter when Jaylen Pleasant ripped a corner trey.
“At that point our legs were tired, threes may not go, we don’t really want to shoot that… so I had to say, ‘You know what. Let’s just change it up and make them go man, because they’re a zone team,’” said Robinson. “And then when they went man-to-man, we didn’t really score out of it, but we were still able to run some clock.”
Jasper guard Idaysia Mercer shot inside and banked a runner off the window to cut the deficit to 39-34 with 1:29 remaining, but when the Vikings were forced to foul, Mortimer Jordan made them pay at the line. The Blue Devils sank each of their six free-throw attempts in the final frame. Freshman Sarah Kanaday, sophomore Bellah Machen and senior MacKynzie Watson took turns going 2 for 2 at the charity stripe.
“I had the ones out there that I wanted to shoot those free throws,” added Robinson.
Jasper took its only lead at 15-14 midway through the second quarter thanks to a bevy of second-chance points. Big Blue answered with back-to-back 3-pointers from Kanaday and Watson. Those shots sparked a 10-0 run that sent Mortimer Jordan into the break with a 24-17 cushion.
The Vikings would keep it close throughout the second half, but never could draw it back to even.
For the Blue Devils, Kanaday led with 11 points, Machen scored 10 and Watson added nine points to match Pleasant. Each of them went on to earn all-area honors.
The Mortimer Jordan boys (14-17) could not climb back from a fourth-quarter deficit on Thursday in the Class 5A, Area 11 championship game, falling to Jasper by a count of 57-49.
The Vikings led by as many as 10 in the final quarter, but the home team would fight back to cut the difference to 2 with 44 seconds remaining. Head coach Josh Golden called a timeout and drew something up for DJ Parks.
“We were trying to run [Parks] off a flare screen for our first option and they covered that,” said Golden. “They did what I told them to do, but we just weren’t quite able to get it done.”
Parks dribbled down the baseline and tried to feed forward Frank Varnon who was cutting to the basket, but the pass was deflected and pulled down by Jasper. The turnover resulted in a transition layup from Anthony Harris that extended the lead to 53-49 with 27 seconds remaining. Harrison Sanders and Brent Geeter added two more buckets for the Vikings as the lead grew to 57-49.
Mortimer Jordan looked to a few different guys to produce offensively. Varnon, Christen Nelms and Nolan Dean each finished with 10 points for the Blue Devils.
Nelms, a senior playing his final home game, was hard to stop in the fourth quarter. He slashed inside and scored with his right three times in the final minutes, cutting the difference to 46-44 with 3:00 remaining and 48-47 with 1:38 left. Jasper would, however, respond when it had to.
Golden thanked the fans for a great turnout.
“This is the best atmosphere that we’ve had at a basketball game since I’ve been here, and that includes some of the Gardendale games,” said Golden. “Our fans were incredible, our students were incredible and that’s why we like to play at home.”
Mortimer Jordan will go on the road next Tuesday in the Northwest Sub-Regional. Their opponent will be the not-yet-determined champion of Area 9, which includes No. 1 Fairfield, No. 4 Wenonah, No. 7 Pleasant Grove and Parker.
In other area tournament action, the Gardendale boys (17-11) survived Jackson-Olin 76-59 in the Class 6A, Area 11 semifinals on Thursday night at Minor. In a game that was originally scheduled for Wednesday and postponed 24 hours, due to the threat of severe weather, Gardendale jumped out to an 11-point lead at the half and stretched it out from there.
The Rockets will return on Saturday to take on host Minor, who beat Carver-Birmingham 35-31 on Thursday, in the Area 11 championship game.
The Gardendale girls saw their season end on Tuesday following a 67-37 loss to Class 6A, Area 11 Tournament host Carver-Birmingham. The Rockets finished with a record of 0-19.
On Thursday in the boys Class 6A, Area 12 finals, No. 1 Pinson Valley shot past Clay-Chalkville 75-65. Kam Woods went for 34 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Indians.
Behind a 23-point performance from Gracie Howard, the Tabernacle Christian girls went to Huntsville for a 54-39 victory over Valley Fellowship Christian on Thursday. Ashlyn Howard chipped in with 10 points of her own for the Torches.
The Tabernacle Christian boys (25-4, 11-1) have secured the 1-seed in the upcoming Alabama Christian Athletics Association State Tournament. The Torches finished up regular season play with a 33-15 victory over Valley Fellowship Christian on Thursday night in Huntsville.
Tyler Andrews was responsible for more than 40% of Tabernacle's total offense with 14 points in the win. The ACAA State Tournament will be held at the Oxford Civic Center starting on Feb. 20.