Jacksonville opens Area 11 tournament play Thursday, and the Golden Eagles warmed up with a 57-29 win over Piedmont in their final regular-season game.
“The biggest thing I’ve told the girls is we haven’t played a game since last Monday,” Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless said. “We got to practice a couple of times, but we wanted to get back to playing games as quick as we could and try to get the momentum going into the tournament this Thursday.
“What I’ve said all season is this is when we really want to be playing well. The games starting Thursday are the ones that matter.”
The Golden Eagles have been motivated since a year ago when they followed up a 2012 Class 4A state championship with a loss to Hokes Bluff in the first round of the Area 11 tournament, which ended their season. This year, they’ll open with rival Alexandria.
“We always want to get to state and last year we were really expecting to get back there,” Jacksonville guard Virginia Poe said. “After that shocker to Hokes Bluff, it’s definitely been on the mind since that day forward. We’re really motivated and ready to go.”
The Golden Eagles looked like a team on mission Monday night against Class 3A Piedmont.
Jacksonville forced 25 Piedmont turnovers and had a 28-0 run that spanned from the middle of the second quarter to early in the third.
“I feel like we’re playing defense really well. We’re pressuring really well,” Poe said. “We’re doing all the things that we focus on really well. I think offense is something we could get better on because we’re missing shots we could make, myself included, but we’re playing really well on defense.”
Angel Kidd finished with 13 points for Jacksonville (19-6), and Poe added 12.
Piedmont was led by Bre Green and Riesha Thompson, who scored seven points each. The Bulldogs return to the court Thursday against Saks in the Class 3A, Area 10 tournament, which will be at White Plains.
Jacksonville will host the Area 11 tournament.
“We’re really looking forward to this area tournament. I think we’re ready,” Poe said. “We have Alexandria first, and they’re our rival, so we obviously want to beat them.”
Piedmont boys 58, Jacksonville 43: Piedmont led by two points at intermission, but took off after head coach Tommy Lewis used the break to make a few changes.
That helped his team put away a win. Piedmont guard Denard Spears said Lewis stressed taking the ball to the basket and setting a trap at the top of the key on defense.
The Bulldogs outscored Jacksonville 32-22 in the second half to clinch the win.
Jacksonville was led by Cam Horton, who scored 17 points, and Sid Thurmond’s 11 points. Piedmont was led by Spear’s 19 points. Ty Sparks added 10 points and Darnell Jackson had nine.
Along the way, Spears picked up Piedmont’s first double-double of the season, recording 10 rebounds.
“I try to time my jump a lot times,” the 5-foot-10 guard said. “I guess I’m kind of good at judging where the ball is going so I jump quickly before the other guys do. I’m going to get a slam before the season is over.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.