The Opelika and Central boys basketball teams made it clear it was tournament time on Monday, engaging in a heated, up-tempo battle that took four extra minutes to complete.
The visiting Bulldogs hit a three-pointer near the end of regulation, a free throw with one second left in overtime and a Central heave fell short as the horn sounded, giving Opelika a 67-66 win over the Red Devils in the Class 6A Area 5 championship game on Monday at Central High.
The loss will force Central to travel to Carver-Montgomery, which beat Jeff Davis in the Area 6 championship game, for a sub-regional game on Friday. Opelika, which got its first win over Central in a championship game, will host Jeff Davis.
"We're going to go up there and play hard," Central coach Bobby Wright said of his team's impending matchup with one of Alabama's top teams. "We're not going to be intimidated
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Central wasn't intimidated on Monday night either and had moments in which it appeared it would take control of the game.
After a close first half, the Red Devils (20-7) pulled out to a 41-36 lead after three and extended that to 45-36 less than a minute and a half into the final period. Over a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, Central went on an 8-0 run to grab the nine-point lead.
Central's Devin Pugh scored six of his game-high 24 points during that stretch.
But Opelika (18-10) wouldn't go away. It cut the Central lead to two points when T.J. Presley knocked down a layup, Trey Porter hit a three and Presley added a couple of free throws. When Central extended its lead back to five, the Bulldogs again responded, this time with six straight points from Aldreacus Wilson to take a one-point lead with two minutes, 26 remaining.
A furious final two minutes in regulation, during which Porter hit a game-tying three with 15 seconds remaining, ended in a 57-57 tie.
In overtime, Pugh grabbed a rebound and laid the ball in the basket to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining, but a foul on the other end with one second left allowed Opelika's Shontrez Tolbert to knock down the tiebreaker for the win.
"I can't say enough about our kids," Opelika coach John Wadsworth said. "We preach to them: Play hard, smart and together. They did a great job of that tonight."
Wright said that this kind of game is always expected when playing a team like Opelika.
"It's always like that," he said. "They're emotional, and they come ready to play. They did what they had to do to win the game."
Wright's not worried about his team's ability going forward. Despite the fact that it will play one of the most talented teams in the state in its next game, Wright trusts in his team's resilience.
"We'll bounce back," he said simply.
Pugh was named to the All-Tournament team along with teammate Ronnie Battle, who scored 10 points in the championship game to follow his 29-point performance in a win over Auburn in the semifinals last Friday.
Kavell Lamb added 11 points in the game for the Red Devils, and Anthony Moore had 10.
Opelika's Presley, who notched 21 points in the championship game, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
Porter, in addition to the big three at the end of regulation, had 14 points in the game, followed by Wilson's 12.
Monday at Central
Opelika 15 10 11 21 10--67
Central 10 17 14 16 9--66
Presley 21, Porter 14, Wilson 12, Tolbert 8, Johnson 6, Mitchell 4, Keith 2.
Pugh 24, Lamb 11, Moore 10, Battle 10, Rodgers 7, Weaver 2, Lindsey 2.
Record: Opelika, 18-10; Central, 20-7. Next: Opelika, vs. Jeff Davis in sub-regionals; Central, at Carver-Montgomery in sub-regionals.