By Jonathan Deal
In front of a packed house, Athens fought off a feisty East Limestone team Friday for a 55-49 victory. The win was the second over their rivals this season and the 19th consecutive for Athens.
“East Limestone came in here with a lot to prove,” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “They’re a good team. Jordon Gandy really played good, probably the best I’ve seen him all year.”
Gandy finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, but it was not enough to overcome Athens’ dominate play in the paint. Athens’ post players Dedrick Stinnett and Trey Potts combined for 33 points.
Potts brought the few remaining fans — who weren’t already standing — to their feet in the opening minute of the game with an electrifying alley-hoop play from brother Giddy Potts.
“I’m kind of used to doing that by now,” said Trey. “It just kind of happened. I saw my brother get a steal and trailed him because he might miss it and then he threw it to me. I didn’t know where he was going to throw it, I just went and got it.”
Trey Potts finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks to lead Athens. AHS was without the older Potts brother for long stretches after Giddy picked up back-to-back fouls early in the second quarter.
With Potts out, Athens held the ball for the final 90 seconds of the second half to take a 30-29 lead into the break. Nothing separated the teams until Athens opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run, matching its largest lead of the game.
Gandy hit back-to-back jump shots to keep East within striking distance before DeAnte Griffin’s layup gave the Indians a 49-48 lead with just over two minutes to play.
The final two minutes were a microcosm of the game as a whole with scrappy play from the Potts brothers proving the difference. Giddy Potts regained the lead for Athens with an old-fashioned 3-point play.
After East Limestone failed to score, Athens grabbed the rebound and Trey put the game away with under a minute to play.
“I believe in my kids and they believe in each other and we’re gonna go down swinging every night,” said Tedford. “They play absolutely as hard or harder than anyone I’ve every coached. What won the game tonight was hard work.”
The five-point win was Athens closest since Jan. 4 when the Golden Eagles knocked off Columbia 65-61. Athens has not lost since Dec. 6 against Lawrence County.
“Everybody is going to give us their best shot,” said Tedford. “I’m proud of our kids for just finding a way to win. It wasn’t a pretty win, but against East Limestone, I’ll take any win I can get.”
Giddy Potts finished with eight points, four steals and a pair of blocks. Devin Davis put in nine points for East Limestone.
The Golden Eagles will host the 5A Area 16 Tournament beginning Friday, Feb. 7. The area champion will play the runner-up of the 5A Area 15 Tournament featuring East Limestone, Cullman, Hartselle and West Point.
East Limestone will host that tournament.
East Limestone 61
East Limestone blew open a close game in the fourth quarter to avenge an earlier loss to Athens this season in which it had seven players foul out.
Leading 43-41 entering the final quarter, Brennan Crabtree took over the game for East Limestone. The senior scored 10 points in the fourth to match Athens’ whole team.
Crabtree finished with a game-high 24 points, including 18 in the second half.
Rachael Diamond added 14 for East and was 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Tariona Adams was Athens leading scorer with 13 points.