Blue Devils play in first state title game
By JOSH FRYE
The Escambia County High School Blue Devils did not get the ending they hoped for, as the team fell 85-49 during last Friday’s (March 4) AHSAA Class 4A state title matchup against Jacksonville in Birmingham. Even though ECHS walked away without a state championship win, they did not leave empty handed.
Last Friday’s game marked the first time that any basketball team in the history of the school has made it to an AHSAA state final game. Last week, ECHS clinched the regional championship against Haleyville, 70-60, another first in school history. Despite falling short during the “show,” the Blue Devils team who finishes the season 26-4 can hold their heads up high as they are the first team to ever gain an AHSAA Class 4A state-runner up honor.
“The guys of course were disappointed,” ECHS head coach Layton Knight said. “They wanted to win the championship, but after the game, I told them that I was proud of them and that they should hold their heads high. These guys made school history more than once this season.”
During the game against Jacksonville, the Blue Devils started out strong. ECHS’s Conner McPherson and Sheldon Williams helped get things started with a handful of points, but Jacksonville quickly gained ground. In all ECHS led the game only once during the first quarter after McPherson’s and Sheldon Williams’ flurry of points. The lead only lasted for just over 2 minutes before Jacksonville took over and attempted to run away.
“They were a strong team,” Knight said. “We expected pressure, but we just could not hold them. The guys were also very nervous, and turnovers got the best of us.”
Sheldon Williams led the team in scoring with 14 points, blocked 4 shots and stole the ball 1 time. Conner McPherson followed Williams with 11 points, 5 offensive rebounds, 1 defensive rebound, 2 assists and 1 blocked shot. Kaiden Arnold added 7 points, 2 offensive rebounds and 1 defensive rebound. Stephen Williams scored 6 points, got 3 offensive rebounds and 3 defensive rebounds and stole the ball once. Hakeem Johnson also contributed 6 points, gained 4 defensive rebounds and 2 steals. Jacob Dirden scored 3 points and stole the ball once. Anthony McCants had 2 points, 1 assist and 1 steal.
According to Knight, the team played their best, but Jacksonville was able to outplay ECHS on the court and in manpower. Knight added that Jacksonville was able to play 12 players as opposed to Atmore’s seven. Knight said that the manpower factor alone played a key difference between the two teams.
Despite the challenges ECHS experienced during the championship game, Knight stressed that the entire community has continued to show an outstanding amount of love and support and has made the journey for the team a rewarding one.
Despite the loss, Knight and the entire ECHS staff echo how proud the school and community are of the boys’ varsity basketball team, and that even though things did not go exactly the way everyone had hoped, the team has secured its spot in local and school history.
Click link below for more photos from the game.
News photo by Ditto Gorme