Column: Blue Devils deserve this one

By JAMES PHILLIPS, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 3/2/18

BIRMINGHAM — In the game of basketball, players have to make plays to win a close game. The Cordova Blue Devils made plays Friday night in Birmingham to bring an Alabama High School Athletic Association state basketball championship to Walker County for the first time.

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Column: Blue Devils deserve this one

Posted

BIRMINGHAM — In the game of basketball, players have to make plays to win a close game. The Cordova Blue Devils made plays Friday night in Birmingham to bring an Alabama High School Athletic Association state basketball championship to Walker County for the first time.

The biggest play of the game came from Isaac Chatman once again when, with the game tied, he picked off a Madison Academy pass, drove the length of the court, was fouled and hit two free throws to put Cordova up 56-54. A few seconds later, Chatman also swiped a Mustang shot from the air to clinch the victory for the Blue Devils.

Those heroics came after Chatman had spent most of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble. He scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, and grabbed all seven of his rebounds in the second half.

While Chatman was sitting, it was the Blue Devils’ other two seniors who kept their team within striking distance of a Mustangs team that is no stranger to state championships. Jayce Willingham scored 15 points and grabbed eight boards in the game, while Demetrius Kirk scored 17 points and had five rebounds.

Willingham was clutch under pressure, hitting two free throws with 15 seconds left to tie the game at 54.

Kirk made big plays off the dribble throughout the game, which kept Madison Academy’s defense honest as they tried to double team Willingham most of the first half.

Kam Cooper and Dylan Hendrix, the Blue Devils’ other two starters, also picked up important plays on the night. Cooper hit a 3-pointer early in the game to provide a scoring boost while Chatman was out, and Hendrix, a freshman, played scrappy defense against a much more experienced bunch of players from north Alabama.

“This was a great high school game,” Cordova Head Coach Heath Burns said in the press conference after the game. “This kind of defined our whole year. They told me we were going to win it. A lot of kids quit when they are down like that at half. They played well. These guys have fought all year long. They are just winners.”

The Blue Devil team deserved this championship. They had made it to the Final Four two years prior and didn’t bring home the title. On Friday night, they showed tremendous heart and made the plays when needed.

This trip to the Final Four was the fifth time that Burns has reached Birmingham: three times with Cordova, once with Parrish and once with Dora. This also marks his first championship. That’s not too bad for a guy who started his coaching career at Townley Junior High.

Burns also showed a lot of guts during the championship game, leaving Chatman on the bench for such a long period of time.

“(The game) was always within six or eight points,” Burns said. “It wasn’t by choice (to leave him on the bench), but we had to do that so he could come out and feel fresh like he did in the second half.”

Burns and his team never waivered, despite facing much adversity Friday night and throughout the entire season. While the starting five got most of the ink spilled over them during the championship run, it was the entire team working together to make each other better. Burns may get all the quotes in the newspaper, but his assistant coaches have worked hard as well, leading this team all the way to the Class 4A state title.

The win should be a proud moment for all of us in Walker County. It should be easy for us all to say, “Go Big Blue!” and “Let’s Go Blue Devils” for quite a while.

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James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.