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Handley boys, girls lose in regional finals

Handley’s Northeast Regional final contest against New Hope Wednesday was in many ways a microcosm of the team’s quest for its first-ever state final four.

Victory within reach, but never quite in its grasp.

Handley fell to New Hope 70-61 in a game that they led only once but were never out of until the very end. It was the third straight season that Handley reached the regional finals only to fall short of the state’s biggest stage.

“Unfortunately we know this feeling all too well,” said Handley head coach Courtney Screws.

If any one player was deserving of having her efforts rewarded with a trip to the final four it was Handley senior Teanna Watts. Watts was relentless with the basketball in her hands, particularly in the second half, and finished with 35 points to lead all scorers.

Handley scored 34 points in the second half, and Watts – who sat out much of the second quarter after picking up two quick fouls – scored 28 of those second half points.

“We put two on her, and she was still scoring,” said New Hope head coach Craig McGill. “She didn’t want to go home. She’s a warrior. She whipped us last year, and she whipped us again today. I would love to coach Teanna Watts. She’s just a stud. She’s tough as nails.”

The longest emotional pause by Screws in a postgame press conference fraught with emotion, was when she was asked about Watts’s performance in the game.

“She’s kind of referred to as my first daughter, and my biological daughter is my second daughter. That’s how a lot of people describe our relationship,” Screws said. “She was a warrior today, and she’s been a warrior for me for four years. I can’t brag on her enough.”

Handley’s only lead came, not at the hands of Watts, but on a three-point play by Kia Brown – her only points of the game – with 3:35 left in the third quarter to make the score 39-38 in favor of the Lady Tigers.

But New Hope responded by scoring the game’s next seven points, and Handley was never able to regain the lead. The closest the Lady Tigers got after that was three points behind, the final time at 65-62 after a free throw by Watts with just over a minute to play.

That turned out to be Handley’s final point as New Hope put the game away from the free throw line.

Takeriauna Mosley, one of the few non-seniors on the team and a cornerstone player for the future of Handley basketball, finished with 13 points. Emelia Askew was held to six points, but led the Lady Tigers with 14 rebounds.

Handley, which will bid farewell to six seniors – Watts, Askew, Jayla Trammell, Shaniah Allen, Tiana Nolan and Shy Bell – finishes the season with a record of 23-10.

“I just feel like we helped build a legacy for Handley, coming to the elite eight for three straight years, and hopefully it continues and it gets better,” Askew said.

Boys

Jacksonville came into the boys Northeast Regional final as the heavy favorite, and after an early challenge from the Handley Tigers, Jacksonville lived up to that billing as they ended the Handley season with an 83-66 win.

“The main part of the game had to do with their length, their athleticism, their experience,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain. “They’re probably just a better basketball team, period. We had to play physical. We had to get up and down the floor with them. There was no way that we could have took the ballgame and tried to slow the ballgame down and have a chance.”

Jacksonville scored the game’s first nine points and never trailed in the contest, but Handley made a game of it until Jacksonville started to pull away early in the fourth quarter.

Both teams struggled with foul trouble, and Handley took advantage of the Jacksonville backups to put together a 9-0 run and make it a 48-45 game on a layup by Tamarious Treadwell with 1:47 left in the third quarter. That basket got starters Cade Phillips and John Broom back in the game for Jacksonville, and the result was a quick 6-0 run that got the lead back up to nine points.

Handley trimmed it to 56-50 early in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers would get no closer than that the rest of the way.

Rondai Banks led Handley with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but no other Handley player reached double figures in scoring. Meanwhile Jacksonville had five players reach double digits in points.

It was a tough finish for what many would describe as an overachieving Handley team. The Tigers returned just two players with meaningful varsity basketball experience after a mass exodus of seniors from last year’s team. They reached the regional final by getting two buzzer-beating victories – one in the area championship game and one in the sub-regional against Etowah.

There was disappointment in the demeanor and tone of the players postgame, but both Banks and Cannon Kyles were able to express their satisfaction over what the team was able to accomplish.

“Everybody doubted us, so for us to get here was an achievement,” Banks said. “I was just glad that we got to where we were at.”

Strain said what the players lacked in basketball experience they made for with competitiveness.

“I think it just goes back to the competitors that our kids are,” Strain said. “They compete. All my guys are football players. They all play football and they know how to compete on the football field. And then they just change sports and turn that competitiveness over to the basketball court.”

Handley finishes the season with a record of 18-12.

Handley’s Maurice Cameron puts up a contested shot during the Tigers’ loss to Jacksonville in the Northeast Regional finals Wednesday at Jacksonville State University.

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