February 23, 2010 9:11:00 AM
At the beginning of the season, Pickens County High School boys basketball coach Russ Wallace didn''t envision his team being ranked No. 1 and making it to the Final Four.
But that''s the case as Pickens County will play Sand Rock at 8:30 tonight in the Class 2A semifinals of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final 48 State Basketball Tournament at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham, Ala.
"If someone would have told me we''d be 25-2 and sitting in the Final Four this year, I would have said you''re crazy," Wallace said. "I would have bet we weren''t going to be where we are now. That''s just a testament to these kids."
Pickens County will put a seven-game winning streak on the line when it tips off against Sand Rock (28-3). The winner will advance to the championship game at 8 p.m. Thursday against the winner of tonight''s game between Mars Hill Bible (28-3) and Houston County (26-10).
The Tornadoes have lost only to Class 6A opponents Tuscaloosa Hillcrest and Tuscaloosa Paul Bryant. They lost by only five points to Hillcrest, which was ranked No. 1 in Class 6A at the time.
"This has been an unreal season to me," Wallace said. "We had to kick some kids off the team at the beginning of the season. We really believed the last couple of years we had better teams. We really did have better teams as far as athletic ability the last two years than we do this year."
Pickens County won the Class 2A, Area 7 Tournament on its home court in Reform, Ala., and the Central Regional Tournament in Montgomery, Ala. The Tornadoes beat Lanett 53-33 for the regional title, as Deion Curry had game highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds.
"The kids are just playing together," Wallace said. "They believe in each other. We''re not as big as we have been in the past. We''re definitely not as experienced because we''ve got a bunch of young kids. But for whatever reason, these guys are playing together and jelling at the right time. I think that''s why we''re where we''re at."
It will be the third time since in six years Pickens County has advanced to the Final Four in Class 2A. The Tornadoes will look to atone for losing in the semifinals to Lanett (73-44) in 2006 and Calera (63-56) in 2005.
Sand Rock returns to the state semifinals and hopes for a better showing than a year ago when it suffered a 75-26 loss to Barbour County.
The Wildcats won the Class 2A, Area 12 championship and the Northeast Regional Tournament to get to Birmingham.
"We''ve got a tough, tough semifinal game," Wallace said. "Sand Rock is 28-3. They''ve got some ballplayers. They''ve got a couple of kids that can shoot the ball real well from the perimeter, and they''ve got a 6-5 eighth-grader (Riley Norris) that doesn''t play like an eighth-grader.
"We''re going to have our hands full. I think we''re going to have a speed advantage. Their coach is an Xs and Os kind of guy. He''s going to run us through a lot of screens and run a lot of set plays. This team is going to pose us some problems."
Wallace intends to press full court and to make Sand Rock play a 94-foot game.
LaJuan Doss (13.5 points per game) leads Pickens County in scoring, followed by Curry (13 ppg.), Nick Stewart (12 ppg.), and Markeithon Hall ( 9 ppg.).
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