January 7, 2011 9:03:00 AM
Holidays don''t always mean days off in West Alabama high school gyms.
While most students spend the time around Christmas and New Year''s Day visiting family or relaxing, the Pickens County High School boys basketball team was winning tournaments that included some of the state''s elite basketball teams.
The Tornadoes, ranked No. 1 in Alabama High School Athletic Association''s Class 1A, slipped by Homewood 71-70 on Dec. 18 to win the Marble City Classic. Homewood is ranked No. 1 in Class 6A.
Then Pickens County defeated Hillcrest and Holt on Dec. 21 to capture the Checkers Tournament. The Tornadoes took home the Pickens County Tournament title on Dec. 28 by beating Aliceville 67-49.
Tornadoes coach Russ Wallace is worried his team no longer will be able to play the role of underdog. The defending Class 2A state champions "have a target and a half on our backs," he said.
"If we can play at the level we have been accustomed, we should be OK," Wallace said. "We have to make sure we don''t get the big head, don''t think that they are just going to hand us the championship.
"We are dealing with kids, and there''s more than just the other team you have to deal with when you play at their place, like officials and fans."
The Tornadoes shouldn''t get ahead of themselves, Wallace said. The most important games are still ahead.
"We''ve got to keep it our heads to continue to improve," he said. "We are still making a lot of mistakes on defense."
The team has five experienced players, but Wallace said he worries about the other players
"The other 10 are young," Wallace said. "They''ve got to understand to continue to work to get better."
Pickens County defeated Class 4A Bibb County 71-50 on Thursday.Sulligent
The Lady Blue Devils also picked up some jewelry during the holidays.
Girls basketball coach Ronnie Hubbert said his team didn''t goof off during the Christmas break.
"We finished second in the (West Alabama Conference) tournament, and we won the Lions Club Invitational at Bevill State in Fayette," Hubbert said.
The Lady Blue Devils continue to battle, however, because they still don''t have a true point guard.
Paige Dean has been wearing a back brace since an injury last summer. Sophomore Laura Ashley Dean is recovering from torn ligaments.
"We''ve been working hard and playing hard," Hubbert said. "With junior high season practically over, we''ve got four eighth-graders on the team all the time."
The Lady Blue Devils finish the week with two important AHSAA Class Class 2A, Area 12 games -- Phil Campbell, Ala., on Thursday and a crucial game today at Lamar County. Lamar County girls coach Jason Clark believes today''s game could be critical for the area standings.
The Lady Bulldogs are 6-5 and 1-2 in AHSAA Class Class 2A, Area 12, losing both games to Red Bay, Ala. Clark said the area tournament begins Feb. 10, and regular-season records will determine tournament seedings.
"Red Bay is in first and will probably get the No. 1 seed," Clark said. "We haven''t been able to get past Red Bay because they have such a strong team, so we can''t be the No. 4 seed or we won''t have a second game."
Clark believes today''s game will be the key to being No. 2 or No. 3 seed. The top two teams after the area tournament will go on to the playoffs.
"Sulligent is a good team, but I think we''ve got a good shot to beat them," Clark said. "I think we''re faster. I think we match up pretty well with them."
Clark also said his girls could use a victory against Sulligent to build their confidence.
"We need to win at Vernon," he said.
Pickens Academy boys basketball coach Justin Thompson hopes his team will continue its winning ways.
The Pirates lost their first three games before winning five before the holiday break. The last victory of 2010 came against Southern It was Pickens Academy''s first Alabama Independent School Association Region 2, Area 1 victory of the year.
The Pirates also took the Tuscaloosa Academy Tournament from the home team after beating Morgan Academy 86-72 in the opening game. Pickens Academy point guard Jacob Acker, the quarterback on the school''s football team, was named the tournament''s Most Valuable Player.
"He led us in scoring and rebounds during the tournament," Thompson said.
The Pirates got back into action this week with three home games -- defeating Marengo 58-32 on Tuesday, losing to Immanuel 53-50 in overtime on Thursday and playing Patrician today.
The new year has brought a new attitude for the Stallions, who defeated Hubbertville 60-34.
"They beat us the first time by about 15 points," coach Tony Seals said.
Better shooting and improved play inside provided the advantage for the Stallions.
"Our shot selection was a lot better," said Seals, who also praised the inside performance of Tremaine Willingham, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "We''ve got a little more confidence in our post play."
South Lamar will play today at Parrish, which beat Hubbertville by about 15 points.
The winless Lady Stallions are trying to find a way to crack into "W" column.
"The girls are still struggling, but they are playing their hearts out," Seals said. "We have tried some things that we hope will work."
Unavailable for comment were Lamar County boys coach Keith Smith, Sulligent boys coach Tommy Chism, Pickens County girls coach Ike Gipson, Pickens Academy girls coach Wade Goodman and Aliceville boys coach Joe Hurst and girls coach Sebastian Shamer,