Eagles remain perched on top

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Following their second consecutive Alabama Independent School Association's Class AAA state championship over LeenScott Academy on Saturday at Huntingdon College, Fort Dale Academy players celebrated, but something was missing.

No someone was missing.

The Eagles' starting Senior Guard Daniel Wesley was admitted at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery earlier that day after having complications from a knee injury he sustained during FDA's seminfinal win over Mobile Christian on Friday.

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After the state trophy presentation, Fort Dale players quickly filed off to the locker room to get dressed and head off to the hospital to celebrate as a complete team.

"I hated that he (Daniel) missed it, but we're bringing him another piece of hardware to wear on his hand," Senior Point Guard Brett Paulk, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, said. "I hated that he missed his last game. He deserved to play in it just as much as everybody did. He's a big part of our team."

The Eagles (27n1) held off a late charge by the Warriors to win 48n42, claim the title and avenge their only loss of the season. Head Coach Reggie Mantooth, who led the FDA's girls to the state title earlier that day, dedicated the boy's win to Wesley.

"We dedicated this game to him," he said. "He's a senior and to miss his last game, I know he really wanted to be out here."

Paulk took control of the game early, scoring the first five of Fort Dale's nine points before being heavily guarded. That opened up scoring opportunities for Senior Andrew Hollis, who along with Paulk scored 10 firstnhalf points. At the half, FDA led 26n13.

"We came out and gave it all we had and came out with a victory," Hollis, who was the team's secondnleading scorer with 14 points, said.

The Eagles continued to dominate throughout the first half of the third quarter, building their lead to 15 points. The Warriors then went on a 10n0 run, cutting the Eagles' lead to 30n25 with 1:45 left in the third.

"I knew that they are a good team and without Daniel (Wesley) it takes a lot of our ball handling away," Paulk said. "When they started pressuring us, it put more pressure on us, but we stuck with it and hung with it."

Mantooth agreed.

"We may have gotten a little conservative on offense and probably took a few too many jump shots," he said. "We knew they would make a run, but when they did, we settled down and kept our lead to about four or five points the rest of the game. Without Daniel that press had a little affect on us and we turned it over a couple of times. The other guys just stepped in and did a great job."

Each time LeenScott gained any ground on Fort Dale, the Eagles answer back with clutch baskets. The Warriors cut the Eagles' lead to 44n42 with 2:08 remaining in the game, but Hollis, Paulk and Josh Yates hit key free throws down the stretch to maintain the lead and come away with the win.

"We came out strong against them and played a really good defensive game the first half to hold them to 13 points," Mantooth said. "We kind of just hung on in the second half. Every time we needed a big play, it seemed like we got one."

LeenScott's Head Coach Steven Kilcrease believes the first half was the difference in the game.

"I thought we were real sluggish in the first half and didn't get after it," Kilcrease said. "We came back in the second half and showed a lot of heart. I couldn't be any prouder than my guys. They were a little more physical than us and we dug ourselves a hole we couldn't get out of."

Backntonback titles was twice as nice for the Fort Dale players.

"It feels awesome," Paulk said. "I thought last year was good, but this is just unbelievable. The crowd was in the game and was just awesome. You get down and get worried, but the crowd keeps you going."

Junior Guard Chuck Barrett, who opted to sit out last season, was exceptionally excited about getting the muchnawaited state championship ring. Although Barrett was disappointed about not getting a ring last year, he said he wouldn't change anything.

"I needed a break," Barrett said. "I don't regre it, I enjoyed cheering them on last year. I'm glad I played this year. I thought I could contribute a whole lot more than I could have last year."

Hollis wasn't only excited for himself and his teammates, but Mantooth as well.

"I love Coach Mantooth, he's the greatest coach I've had," Hollis said. "He's taught me a lot about defense and how it can help you on offense. He has a great strategy. He comes into every game positive and knows how to fire you up."

Mantooth said two titles in the same year was a dream come true.

"It's a great feeling that I never thought I'd experience," Mantooth said.

The Greenville Advocate will publish a commemorative special section celebrating Fort Dale's state title on March 6.