Keeping their eyes on the ball
By By Arthur McLean Managing Editor
The state champs were welcomed back home as the Escambia Academy Boys and girls basketball teams were honored Tuesday morning.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell presented members of both teams with engraved plaques recognizing their achievements and copies of a city resolution saluting the AISA state champions.
This was only the seventh time in the history of AISA that both the boys and girls teams from the same school have won the state championship.
For coach Chad Prewett, it was the fourth time he had taken his boys' team to the championship game and a chance at redemption. Three previous trips ended in heart-breaking losses.
The last time the boy's team brought home a championship was in 1986.
For EA's girls' team, the championship was its third time bringing home the champion's trophy in five trips. The team also won in 2000 and 2002.
Prewett, who was the head coach for both teams, said his boys' team was the surprise of the season. "We had a young girls team that made it to the final four last year, so everyone kind of expected them to make it again. But the boys lost four out of five starters from last year's team," he said. "They (boys) were a unique group of overachievers."
The season was a story of defense for both teams. "Both teams were very similar to each other," Prewett said. Utilizing the full-court press, Prewett preached defensive pressure. "We talked a lot about 32 minutes of defense," Prewett said.
The girls ended their season with a 29-3 mark, while the boys wrapped up the season at 25-7. "We started out 5-4 with the boys," Prewett said. "We were a long way from a championship team when the season started."
In addition to defense, different players stepped up during different games.
Junior Zack Thomas exploded for 35 points against Pickens Academy, but was held to only nine points in the championship game. But Matt Amerson stepped up off the bench and chipped in the final four points of the game.
The girls meanwhile dominated the boards, with Kaylie Castleberry grabbed 10 rebounds for the Lady Cougars in the championship game.
Lori Bonds was named the girls MVP of the tournament, and Robert Hardy was named the boys MVP. Kaylie Castleberry, Mandi Norton, Zach Smith and Zack Thomas were named as all-tournament players.
"This means a lot to the city," Shell said. "You're in the history books now."