Nate Meecham

Left: MA’s Nate Meacham goes up to block a shot in the ACA game.

 Photo: Staff

    After six games and three tournaments, the Montgomery Academy Eagles finally got to play a game at home.

   Oliver Bear hit five 3-pointers and came up with six steals on defense to help the Eagles to a 67-47 win over Alabama Christian Academy at Joe Mooty Court on Thursday night for MA’s third consecutive win.

   Montgomery Academy (6-9) opened the season with six consecutive road games, losing five of them, and then played in the Scholars 4 Tournament, the Coach Larry Chapman Tournament and the Jack Schweers Capital City Classic before first-year coach Jeremy Arant finally got a chance to coach his first home game.

   “We played pretty well,” Arant said. “We did a really good job of controlling the tempo in the first half. We wanted to get out and push the ball up the floor a little bit. We felt like we could take advantage with our transition offense some and I felt like we did a good job of that.”

   Montgomery Academy clung to an 18-14 lead at the end of the first quarter before getting a little bit of a cushion with a 33-24 lead at the half. Bear had two of his 3-pointers in the first quarter and had 12 points in the first half, while Trey Lindsey had eight of his 12 in the first half.

   Bear finished with a game-high 25 points, while Lindsey finished with a triple-double, scoring 12 points, dishing out 13 assists and pulling down 10 rebounds.

   ACA (9-8) had won six of their last eight games before Thursday’s meeting, using a balanced attack and a variety of shooters. The Eagles relied on that formula again, but only Carson Hunt reached double figures with 10 points, followed by Ben Johnson with nine.

   “They shoot the ball really well,” Arant said. “One of the things that’s really tough about them is they put five guys out on the floor and all of them shoot the ball pretty well so it’s tough to defend that, especially when they’re making shots.”

   Montgomery Academy remains home to play its area opener on Friday night against St. James, while Alabama Christian returns home to play Maplesville on Friday night in the ACA gym.

MA boys vs. Saint James

   It all starts on defense and Montgomery Academy had the defensive strategy to hold the St. James offense in check.

   “We’ve been talking a lot defensively about just getting back to our basics and the things that have made our program successful over the last several years,” Montgomery Academy coach Jeremy Arant said. “We’re playing a lot better defense than we were at the beginning of the year and that shows in our scores and it’s allowing us to play more transition offense, which is big for us.”

   The Eagles’ top three scorers saved their best for last, combining for 14 points in the final period to hold off the Trojans and come out on top 49-34 in the first area game for both teams at Joe Mooty Court on Friday night.

   “That was huge,” Arant said. “The last couple of years, we kind of got behind the eight-ball in terms of area play. We talked a lot with our guys today about how this was important because it’s really hard to play catchup in the area.”

   MA (7-9) won its fourth consecutive game with good defense in the first three quarters, concentrating on holding the Trojans’ leading scorer, Tyler Pines, without a basket.

   “Tyler is a dynamic player,” Arant said. “He does a great job of controlling the tempo in the game. We wanted to try to get it up-tempo a little bit but he does a great job of pacing the game for them. He’s really hard to keep out of the lane. We ran two guys at him most of the night to try and do that.   

   “Then, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he scored three or four baskets in a row and cut the lead to three points. He’s just hard to deal with.”

   Pines had six straight points to trim the MA lead to 35-32 with 6:41 remaining, but his next attempt, a 3-pointer, was off the mark and a turnover on the Trojans’ next possession cooled off the rally. Four minutes later, with the Eagles still clinging to a three-point lead, Oliver Bear hit a 3-pointer on an in-bounds pass and William Norrell hit a layup on the next possession to put the game out of reach as MA scored the last 12 points of the game.

   “We’ve been in (almost) every game … but we just don’t have that little bit of something to get over the hump,” St. James coach Nigel Card said. “But we played hard. They’re doing the best they can right now. We just have to keep working to get better.”

   Bear had 13 points (and five rebounds) to lead Montgomery Academy, including five in the fourth quarter. Norrell had 11 points, including four in the fourth quarter, along with five assists and seven rebounds. Trey Lindsey had just eight points, but five were in the fourth quarter, to go along with seven assists and eight rebounds.

   Andrew Sadie led St. James (4-11) with 15 points, followed by Alex Rountree with nine and Pines with seven, going more than 24 minutes without a basket before hitting three early in the fourth quarter.

   “That was problematic, for sure,” Card said. “It takes us out of anything we want to do because our secondary ball handler hasn’t been identified, somebody stepping up, getting the basketball and making a basketball play. Any time you’ve got two guys on one, that means somebody is open but you’ve got to have somebody who’s capable of taking the ball and making the defense hurt.”

   Both teams are on the road for area games on Tuesday, with MA playing at Bullock County on Tuesday and St. James traveling to Pike Road.

   “You don’t want to lose any of them, but the area games are about positioning and trying to get yourself in the best position to host,” Card said. “But we’re a long way from that. We’re just focusing on trying to play well right now.”

MA Girls vs. ACA

   The Montgomery Academy girls had been running over the holidays, rolling to the championship of the Jack Schweers Capital City Classic and into Thursday night’s matchup with Alabama Christian Academy.

   The Lady Eagles kept on running, using a strong first half to roll past ACA 68-37 on Joe Mooty Court.

   “We were playing good and I knew we’d have a little lapse with the holidays,” MA coach Barry Fencher said. “You come back and use this game as a tuneup for (the area opener with St. James).

“We played good in spurts. I saw what I wanted to see and we got prepared (for St. James). I got to play a lot of people and rested my starters.”

   Montgomery Academy (13-2) turned up the defensive pressure and held the visitors without a field goal for most of the first quarter, shaking off a rusty start to grab a 38-19 lead at the half. Gabby Ramirez scored 10 points in the second quarter and had 18 for the game, hitting four 3-pointers in the process.

“What I’m trying to get Gabby to understand is I don’t necessarily have to have her score, but when she’s got the open shot, she’s been knocking down the shot, which makes us so much better because we’re a pretty dominant team on the inside,” Fencher said. “And we’re moving the ball really well and getting a lot of clean, open looks.”

   ACA coach Mike Anderson said his team’s three-week layoff showed. Like MA, the ACA girls got off to a slow start offensively. Unlike MA, the ACA girls couldn’t rely on their opponents’ mistakes to ignite their offense.

   “I had hoped we would handle the pressure a little better,” Anderson said. “We haven’t played since Dec. 17 and when you take three weeks off and then play a team as good as MA, it’s tough. Those girls play hard and they’re fundamentally sound. When they’re playing hard and you turn it over and don’t make layups and free throws, you get beat.”

   Madi Caddell added 15 points for Montgomery Academy, followed by Margaret Head with 12 and Leighton Robertson with nine. The Lady Eagles remain home on Friday night to play their area opener against St. James.

   Josie Barlow led ACA (9-7) with 11 points, followed by Lindsey Glass with eight. The Lady Eagles return home to play Maplesville on Friday night in the ACA gym.

    

MA Girls vs. Saint James

   With eight minutes remaining in Friday night’s area matchup between Montgomery Academy and St. James, the Trojans needed a basket to cut into a five-point deficit. Even a shot at the basket would have been a start.

   Instead, the Eagles’ stifling defense kept St. James from getting close enough to take a shot for more than three minutes and more than another minute passed before Mallie Taylor finally scored. By then, a 14-point deficit was too much to overcome and the Trojans fell 49-40 in the area opener for both teams at Joe Mooty Court.

   “There was about a five-minute stint in the fourth quarter that was a game changer,” St. James coach Katie Barton observed, adding that there were brief lapses throughout the game that cost her team, including one early in the game where a 10-3 lead quickly turned into an 11-10 deficit.

   “I think we played good basketball for 24 minutes,” she noted. “It’s just where my girls are at right now. (Montgomery Academy) is a good team and apply a lot of pressure. They’re relentless. We just have to get better during those eight minutes. It’s early in the season and we’re just going to take it one game, one practice, and try to get better. I was proud of our 24 minutes but we’ve got to fix the other eight.”

   The Eagles did it without help from the perimeter – MA was 0 for 6 from the 3-point arc – and with a decided advantage at the free-throw line that could have led to a wider margin had MA not hit just 19 of 34 attempts from the line.

   “In the second half, we did what we needed to do,” Montgomery Academy coach Barry Fencher said. “In the first half, I think we put too much emphasis on this being an area game. We missed a bunch of layups in the first half, I don’t know if it was nerves or trying so hard. The effort was there, we were just missing the layups.”

   The opening minutes of the fourth quarter, as it turned out, were the determining factor in the area battle because Montgomery Academy’s pressure led to several layups on the other end.

   “We knew to put constant pressure on them,” Fencher said. “They don’t really have a lot of depth. We do at the guard spot. We’re usually a second-half team because of our depth.”

   Leighton Robertson was one of those key defenders, finishing with 12 points (including six in the fourth quarter), along with six steals and five rebounds.

   “Leighton is our energy girl,” Fencher said. “Just like Margaret (Head) is our energy person under the goal, Leighton is at the top of our press. She makes so much happen.”

Millie Stevenson led Montgomery Academy (14-2) with 16 points and four steals, including eight points in the fourth quarter. Head had nine points, five steals and eight rebounds, while Gabby Ramirez had seven points.

   Ashley White had 15 points to lead St. James, including eight in the third quarter to keep the game close entering the fourth quarter. Taylor had 13 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.

   St. James (11-5) will try to snap a three-game losing skid with a crucial area game at Pike Road on Tuesday. MA travels to Bullock County for an area game on Tuesday.

Sports Editor