Sparkman poised to win first basketball championship since 2007Published 1:54pm Thursday, February 27, 2014
BIRMINGHAM- The expectations for the Sparkman girl’s basketball program have been sky high since Alexis Jennings was a sophomore and emerged as one of the top players in the state. But the championship has been elusive. Sparkman was upset last season in the Northwest Regional by eventual champion Hoover.
This year, Sparkman dispatched Hoover 57-40 in the regional and has spent the entire season as the top ranked team in the state. They are now one win away from the Senators first state title since 2007 when June Seals coached the team.
Shades Valley is the only obstacle in the way and Friday night at 5 p.m. Sparkman will take on the Mounties at the BJCC in the 6A girl’s championship game.
Head coach Patrick Delay was on that staff and has been an assistant on all three of Sparkman girl’s state titles.
“These kids deserve it. They work hard and have done everything asked of them,” Delay said from Birmingham where the team stayed after Wednesdays 56-45 win over Blount.
“They come from great families and are getting all the rewards they should get.”
Sparkman is letting school out early on Friday to give fans and teachers time to get to Birmingham.
Delay said this team has been confident all year and that losing last year motivated them through the off-season.
“The girls are excited to be in the championship game and they are loose like they have been all year. That is what gets them focused in and ready to play.”
“We love playing in front of big crowds and it will be a good environment,” Delay said. “Shades Valley being here in Birmingham will have a lot of fans there and Mountain Brook fans will jump on board.”
Shades Valley is a formidable team coming in with a 30-4 record and wins over Huntsville and Gadsden City in the regional and Jeff Davis in the semifinal.
Sparkman struggled in the first half against Blount in Wednesday’s semifinal game and led by only one point at halftime. Starting guard Wynter Sales picked up two quick fouls. Six fouls in the first five minutes limited Sparkman’s ability to press and they played some zone defense.
“We got outrebounded by 10 and anytime that happens you are fortunate to win,” Delay said. “We were able to settle in with our man-to-man defense in the second half and we cut down on their dribble penetration and run outs.
Alexis was getting good looks at the basket but they just weren’t going in but her offense never affects her defense. She can score 18 and consider it an off night. We’re going to need a real good game from Alexis to beat Shades Valley and we need Toni to keep playing well too.”
Jennings scored 29 points in each of the two wins at the Northwest Regional and scored 18 against Blount. Toni Brewer was an efficient 7-16 from the field and had 17 against Blount.
Sparkman has not played Shades Valley this season.
“They looked fantastic against Jeff Davis,” Delay said of Shades Valley. “Their guards were putting on a lot of pressure and getting easy opportunities in transition. It will be a challenge just to slow down their guards enough to win. You’re not going to shut them down. They have one good sized post player so we will try to take advantage in the paint.”
Sparkman can call upon bench players like Morgan Caselberry and Kendra Dawkins who have played well if a starter gets in foul trouble.
One concern going into a championship game is avoiding foul trouble for Sparkman’s leading scorer Alexis Jennings. Jennings at 6-foot-2 can score from the outside and in the paint. She has signed to play in college at the University of Kentucky.
“She does a good job of going around post players and avoiding charging fouls,” Delay said. “Our main worry with her getting in foul trouble would be on the defensive end being too aggressive trying to block shots. We have a very deep bench if anyone gets in foul trouble.”
Two basketball players, Alexis Fletcher and Chelsea Robinson, were on Sparkman’s softball tam that won a state championship last year.
Delay got news on Thursday that Jennings was one of only 10 players nationwide to be named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Team.
Jennings is rated the ninth best forward in the 2014 class by ESPN.com. She was a finalist for the 6A Player of the Year last year and Miss Basketball in Alabama. Both awards are within her reach this season.