As the final buzzer sounded Hatton head coach Justin Henley went sprinting to the locker room in excitement. And who could blame him?
His team had faced certain doom, trailing Cold Springs by 10, the Hornets’ season was on the verge of ending. But when good teams are backed into a corner, they turn to what they do best and for Hatton, that was defense.
They say defense wins championships, and while it didn’t win a championship tonight it certainly won this game.
Hatton held the Eagles to just 10 fourth quarter points, outscoring them 23-10 in the final period to steal the win on the road 54-48.
“I was really impressed with our defense. That’s who we are but I was second guessing myself coming in because I wasn’t sure we could guard them man with the way they pound it inside,” Henley said. “They play high low more than anybody in the state of Alabama, but our guys just kept battling and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Hatton came out on fire, quickly racing to a 12-0 lead. However, foul trouble caught up to them as stars Ridge Harrison and Kris O’Dell both sat the second quarter. Cold Springs kept chipping away at the lead until they nailed a buzzer beating three to take their first lead at halftime 26-24.
The Eagles pushed their lead to 38-31 by the end of the third and led by 10 in the fourth quarter, seemingly putting themselves in a position to win.
But Hatton is a senior heavy team that’s been in these positons before, so they weren’t going to flinch. O’Dell knocked down a three to start their comeback and their stingy defense forced turnovers and empty possessions to allow them to complete it.
“The confidence this team has right now is just unreal,” Henley said. “We shot it well early, but we couldn’t score in the second and third quarter. But even though we were struggling, they never ran away with it. Then we just had some guys step up and make some plays.”
Free throws were big down the stretch. The Hornets were 10/12 from the charity stripe in the final quarter.
“I wish we would have made a couple more and maybe my blood pressure wouldn’t be so high,” Henley said. “When we got it to six I felt like at two possessions we had a good chance of winning.”
Ridge Harrison led Hatton with 20, while Carter Reed had 10.
Hatton moves on to the Elite Eight where they will play Sheffield on Friday at Wallace State. Tipoff is set for 11:30.
The last time the Hornets advanced to the Final Four they used last second free throws to defeat Pickens County in 1999. The man that shot those free throws? Hatton’s coach Justin Henley.
“This is unbelievable,” Henley said of his team’s advancement. “I’m so happy for this team.”