Column: The thrills of playoff basketball

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, February 25, 2023

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When I moved to Chambers County back in June, I was told football is king.

That was partially right, but basketball has been a whole different creature.

When the season started, I had no clue who was going to good and who wasn’t.

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As the season progressed, it was clear that there would be several teams fighting well into the postseason.

During the area tournaments, the Lanett and LaFayette boys gave the community a rivalry game to be proud of, and it may have been the final one in the series.

The regional rounds is where things really heated up.

After traveling 384 miles this week, I can easily say it was one of the most fun weeks working this job.

Seeing the ups and downs and the emotions of each win or loss, it really made me feel like I became more a part of this community.

On Feb. 17, I traveled all the way to Jacksonville to cover the Lanett boys and girls and the LaFayette boys.

When Lanett played Sand Rock, I wasn’t sure who was going to win.

The Panthers were easily one of the most fun teams to watch this season.

They may not have had the size to compete with some of the biggest teams, but they had speed that no team could match up with.

Unfortunately for Lanett, Sand Rock had guys who couldn’t miss shots, and the youth of the Panthers showed as Lanett ended their season in regionals.

The one thing about the Panthers is they never quit.

That program has so much pride and tradition that I know they’ll be back in the playoffs next season.

I’ll never forget how Tay McCants treated me like I was already a part of the Lanett family, even though I haven’t been here a full year.

The Lanett girls are also incredibly fun to watch as the Lady Panthers have won 21 straight games.

Charlie Williams’ team has so many ways to beat opponents, and they have the perfect combination of size and speed to give even a 7A program like Smiths Station a lot of trouble.

The Lady Panthers beat Pisgah in the regional semifinal, and it was sweet revenge against a team who knocked Lanett out last year and won five consecutive state championships.

After fumbling around with my camera and my laptop trying to get every story done before my deadline, I finally got to see the LaFayette boys play Pisgah.

If this was the final season of LaFayette basketball, it was one full of what-ifs.

LaFayette had all the talent to make it the regional final, but they just couldn’t make the free throws to win it.

I know it was a disappointing year for the Bulldogs, but they’ll return a lot of talent next year.

The only thing in their way is the uncertainty around the schools.

I finished all my work around 12:30 in the morning and probably annoyed the Jacksonville State staff by staying in the media room too long.

After grabbing Cook Out and eating in on the backroads, I made it back to town at two in the morning and got some rest over the weekend.

On Monday, I traveled to Birmingham to watch the Valley Rams play Demopolis in the regional semifinal. I didn’t know a lot about Demopolis, and I wasn’t sure how Valley would match up with other teams around the state.

It probably helped that Valley fans heavily outnumbered the Demopolis fans, but the Rams looked like their normal selves with a 28 point win.

Watching Valley play is more fun than watching a lot of college teams.

I’ve never seen a high school team gel together so well and embarrass their opponents.

It helped that it was only one game that day, but it was thrilling to see that team get a big win and stay undefeated.

I didn’t get much rest as I had to travel back to Jacksonville to see the Lady Panthers take on Ider in the regional final.

Ider gave Lanett some trouble, but I saw that team overcome last minute pressure to win and advance to the state semifinal.

The Lady Panthers are heading back to the semifinals for the third straight year, and I believe this team can win it all.

I had one day with no travel before returning to Birmingham to watch Valley play Central of Clay County in the regional final.

Once again, the Rams traveled well, and it almost felt like a home game with how much noise the fans made.

This game was different because it seemed like the Rams started to garner attention from all over the state as the only undefeated team left in Alabama.

It was fun watching a team play an important playoff game like it was just practice for them.

Valley is so good up and down the court that it feels like they’re playing with six men at all times.

After Valley dunked all over the Vols, it was fun to watch the team celebrate as the Rams reached their third semifinal ever in school history.

If any team deserved to make it to the semifinals this year, it was Valley.

They spent all season crushing teams, and people around the state still didn’t believe they could get this far.

Their entire starting five is full of stars, and winning a championship is doable but incredibly difficult.

As I reflect on what it was like to travel all over the state and see Chambers County teams go through ups and downs, it really made me feel like I was at home in the county.

The highlights of the week included seeing both Lanett and Valley celebrate their teams as they fight for state championships.

Other highlights included seeing the mountains up in Jacksonville and passing the Haunted Chicken House in the Talladega National Forest.

I’ll make multiple trips to Birmingham next week, but it will only get more and more exciting as both Valley and Lanett are two games away from becoming state champs.