By JOSH FRYE
Despite a slow start this season due to a shortage of players and the COVID-19 pandemic, Escambia Academy’s basketball team was able to beat the odds and advance into the AISA Class AA state finals.
The Cougars, guided by first-year head coach Willie White, fell just short of their state title goal on February 17, dropping a 62-55 decision to Macon-East Montgomery Academy at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
Despite the loss, White is proud of what the Cougars were able to accomplish.
“This group of kids is one of the best that I have coached in my career,” White said. “After retiring from coaching for several years, I am eternally grateful to Hugh Fountain and Escambia Academy for giving me the chance to return to coaching. Despite losing the championship game, this was a very successful season for the team and school.”
White added that anytime a team makes it to the state final, it is a major achievement.
The Cougars did not give up the ship easily, leading at the end of every period until the third, when the Knights broke free and secured the title.
“The guys played a great game,” White said. “We were playing against a team that we have not had any experience against, and it hurt us some. Butterflies and jitters from being on a big stage played some part in the loss as well. Regardless, the guys left their hearts on the court.”
Landon Sims scored 15 points to lead the Cougars in scoring. Sims also had four rebounds, a steal and four assists. He and teammate Daughtry McGhee were later named to the AISA Class AA Final Four All-Tournament team.
Bubba Nettles came up with 13 points, three assists and four rebounds; McGhee contributed nine points, eight assists, three steals and three rebounds; Maliki Haynes scored eight points, and Chaston Helton added seven.
White said the game, which was a nail-biter to the end, was the most exciting competition the Cougars have taken part in all season.
“We cannot express our gratitude as a team for the support this season,” White added. “Everyone has been in our corner, and I have been blessed to have the opportunity to coach these wonderful kids.”