No. 3 Goshen, No. 4 Mars Hill square off

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Sports Writer

For only the second time in

school history, the third ranked Goshen Eagles are playing on high school basketball’s center stage with the

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spotlight of the entire state finally on them.

The Eagles hope to continue their quest to earn the ultimate prize this afternoon when they face fourth ranked Mars Hill Bible School at the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A Boys State Semifinals. Tipoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at the Jefferson Civic Center Complex in Birmingham.

The winner of today’s game will face the survivor of the Barbour County/Section game in Thursday’s state championship matchup at 6 p.m. The BCHS-Section game will tipoff off today at noon shortly before the Eagles hit the floor.

Two and a half weeks ago, the Eagles (23-2) started the postseason winning the 2A Area 2 title by blowing out Highland Home (95-46) and Red Level (79-70). On Friday, Feb. 16, Goshen made the regional tournament for the first time in three years with a 64-49 win over Excel. In last week’s Southwest Regionals at Mobile, the Eagles claimed victories over R.C. Hatch 79-70 and Southern Choctaw 70-62 to make it to the Magic City.

On the other hand, Mars Hill Bible School (30-6) reached the Final Four by defeating Red Bay 64-45 in the area tournament before claiming a 66-49 victory over Cold Springs in the subregionals. At the Northwest Regionals in Hanceville, the Florence based school eased by Altamont 70-52 in the semifinals before earning a hard fought 78-72 win over Tanner in the championship game.

Mars Hill Bible is a private Christian school located in the Quad Cities area in Northwest Alabama which doesn’t have a football program. Despite never having won a state championship, Mars Hill is well known in the Florence area for their hoops.

Over the last couple of days, the Eagles have been practicing extremely hard getting ready for their first Final Four appearance since 1996. With the quick turnaround following the region title game on Friday, the Goshen boys were given Saturday off before returning to the hardwood twice before departing for Birmingham early Monday afternoon.

One of the things the Eagles have been working on is defending Mars Hill’s tremendous perimeter game. Goshen head basketball coach Major Lane said MHBS likes to penetrate the paint and

kick the ball out for the wide open three-pointer. At the same time, Lane said the Eagles also must be aware of MHBS’s ability to take the ball aggressively to the basket. The Eagles must play great defense without fouling due to Mars Hill’s tremendous ability to hit a high percentage of free throws.

With several opponents in the Northwest Alabama area having failed playing man-to-man against Mars Hill this season, Lane said he wants the Eagles to give them a different look than what they have seen all year by playing a 2-3 zone.

"They’ve seen a lot of man-to-man and I want to show them some things they’ve never seen before," Lane said. "They’ve not seen much zone (against NW Alabama teams) and I don’t want them to get into a comfort zone. They have outstanding perimeter shooters, plus they know how to attack the basket. They will shoot the three point shot well, so when they miss we have to box out and get a hand in their face on defense."


Defensively, Lane said he expects MHBS to play an aggressive man-to-man defense for 85 percent of the game. However, Lane said he also expects Mars Hill to use a diamond half court trap before falling back into a man-to-man or a 2-3 zone. Offensively, Lane said the Eagles must show the balance they have presented all year long by getting the ball inside to senior forward Jamar Tucker and sophomore Kendaris Pelton before kicking the ball outside. Junior guard Averick Rogers hopes to have a huge Final Four after suffering through a mini-slump in the regionals at Mobile last week.

Despite having only two days of preparation for Mars Hill, Lane said he likes his team’s attitude heading into the Final Four.

"Our kids have had a super attitude," Lane said. "The players have been very enthused about practice. It’s a great atmosphere to be in because you don’t get to go to the Final Four every year. We hope things turn out for the best. It’s an exciting atmosphere knowing we’re one of the Final Four teams."

Although there’s a lot of hype and a number of distractions involved with the Final Four, Lane said he wants the Eagles to treat their trip to Birmingham just like it’s another Tuesday regular season game in the Wiregrass.

"They know we’ve been there before and hopefully the second time will be our charm," Lane said. "We will have to play our game knowing they’ll be trying to exploit our weaknesses. We have to make runs of our own and survive their runs. The kids have done a great job of doing the things we’ve asked them to do. We’re going to stick with the things we’ve done all year and hope for the best. We’ve practiced just like it’s the regular season. Nothing has changed. We’re just going to run the floor and play Goshen basketball."

While the Eagles are happy to be playing on high school basketball’s final week, Lane said Goshen will not settle for anything less than a state championship.

"We’re on a mission trying to gain some respect," Lane said. "I know some people don’t believe in us, but we’re going to play hard. The only that will help us gain respect is by winning. We’re happy to be going there, but we’re not satisfied."

Despite having split three of the last six meeting with Barbour County since 1995, Lane said it won’t make any difference if the Eagles play either BCHS or the Lions from Jackson County Thursday night as long as GHS survives and advances today.

"It doesn’t make any difference as long as we get there and have a shot," Lane said. "Once we get there we’ll find out what we need do. When you get this far, it doesn’t matter who you play because everyone is good."

Lane said the unusual early 1:30 p.m. tipoff time should not be a problem in that it will allow the Eagles less time to sit around the hotel and wait.

One of things that’s helped the Eagles all season has been tremendous crowd support including last week’s regionals. Lane said he hopes a lot of people will make the trip to Birmingham today wearing their purple and goal as the Eagles hope to bring back their first ever state basketball championship.

"We’re awfully appreciative of the teachers and the supporters," Lane said. "We’re thankful to all the fans in Pike County chipping in and be a part of this atmosphere. Hopefully we’ll play good up there. If we believe in what we’re doing, we’ll accomplish our goals."