Eagles bring home trophy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Montgomery- It just made sense that the two top-ranked teams in the Alabama Independent School Association should meet each other to settle the score once and for all as to who was number one. And that's exactly what happened Saturday at Huntingdon as the Fort Dale Eagles rallied in the fourth period to send the game into overtime before taking a 51-42 win over previously number one ranked Tuscaloosa Academy. The win gave head coach Reggie Mantooth his first boy's championship since taking the helm of the Eagles 10 years ago. In 1995 and 1999, Mantooth led Fort Dale's Lady Eagles to state titles.

&uot;We've had two runners up and had two teams in the final four,&uot; said Mantooth after the game as he savored the moment. &uot;This is just a tremendous thing for the program.&uot;

Fort Dale, whose fans packed the confined Huntingdon gym throughout the tournament, was led by Brett Paulk's 23 points and 11 rebounds. Paulk said the feeling of getting the win was like no other he's experienced.

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&uot;It's a rush,&uot; he said, cutting the tape off his ankles after the game. &uot;We played like Fort Dale is capable of playing. We got down and we didn't give up.&uot;

Paulk, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, scored all 10 of the Eagles' first quarter points and led Fort Dale to a four-point lead at the half.

The Knights, who were defending their Class AAA crown, took over in the third quarter and sprinted to a 36-33 lead at the end of the third quarter before Tuscaloosa head coach Scott Brenizer spread the floor to protect the lead.

The ploy didn't work though as the Knights turned the ball over and allowed the Eagles to take control.

&uot;We went to the four corners where we wanted to get layups only and I've got a kid that pulls up for a 10 foot jumper,&uot; Brenizer said. &uot;I thought we played a pretty good game defensively, we just had three straight possessions that killed us.&uot;

Brenizer said his bunch had a good idea what the Eagles would throw at them.

&uot;After the two games we played them we know what to expect,&uot; he said. &uot;But it's just hard to beat anybody three times (in a season).&uot;

Fort Dale senior shooting guard Justin Pierce, who finished with 10 points and was named to the all tournament team, was shut out most of the game due to a swarming Knights defense. But when the Eagles had to have it he responded by drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key with little more than two minutes in regulation to tie the score at 38.

The Knights had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Michael Gilbert's jumper at the buzzer missed.

In overtime, Pierce nailed another three-pointer and the Eagles hit their foul shots to clinch the title.

&uot;I just got some good screens and they left me open,&uot; said Pierce about the Knights defensive pressure on him. &uot;Sometimes I think they had three guys on Brett. Coach said we just had to play defense and run through the offense and that's what we did.&uot;

Seniors David Johnson and Dewey Brannon said getting the win in their last game in Eagle red, white and blue is a feeling they'll never forget.

&uot;I was kind of scared and had a bad feeling, but when Justin hit that three I just started feeling it,&uot; Brannon said. &uot;It's hard to explain. But to go out with this, it feels great.&uot;

&uot;We've been so close so many times,&uot; Johnson added. &uot;We finally got it after all these years.&uot;

Daniel Wesley added 12 points for the Eagles with Ty Langston scoring four and Johnson two points.

Gilbert led the Knights with 15 points and Brandon Moncrief added 12. Both Moncrief and Gilbert were named to the all tournament team.

Editor's note: The Greenville Advocate and participating sponsors will publish a special section honoring the Eagles' championship on Saturday, March 8.