Jersey pulled up over his face, Everette Mayes squatted near the sideline as he tried to hold back tears.
For Austin High's on-the-floor leader, hiding the disappointment he felt was difficult.
A near-perfect second half by Hazel Green brought Austin's season to a halt. The Trojans blew open a close game with a furious scoring run late in the third quarter, and rode a wave of momentum to a 63-55 upset of the sixth-ranked Black Bears Friday night in a Class 6A sub-regional game.
Hazel Green (23-9), last season's Class 6A state runner-up, advances to face Hoover on Wednesday in the Northwest Regional at Wallace State-Hanceville.
"They're a great team," Austin coach Demond Garth said of Hazel Green. "They've got so much size, it just creates so many matchup problems. Our guys played hard and fought to the very end, but Hazel Green was just the better team tonight."
Slowing down Hazel Green's talented offensive ensemble of Lewis Sullivan and Austin Dempsey was a problem, but Austin (18-8) kept pace for most of the game. There were six lead changes before the Trojans used an 11-0 run late in the third quarter to pull away.
Ethan Stair sparked the run, draining a 3-pointer before grabbing a turnover on the next possession and finishing the play with a two-handed dunk in transition.
Stair and Sullivan each finished with 12 points, while Dempsey led Hazel Green with 20.
"With the way the game was going, if we could string together about three or four possessions, make good shots and get stops, then we would be fine," Hazel Green coach Todd Jeffers said. "We made a lot of shots in the second half because we were patient. This year, that's one of the best halves we've had offensively."
Austin struggled to score in the second half. Mayes nailed four 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter, but trailing by 10 with less than a minute remaining, time wasn't on the Black Bears' side.
Mayes led Austin with 22 points, while Malique Elliott finished with 15. Camron Reedus added 11 for Austin.
"Obviously, this isn't how we wanted it to end, but I'm proud of this team," Garth said. "These guys were fighting through adversity from the very beginning of the season. Because of what happened in the offseason, with players leaving and things like that, a lot of people said this team wouldn't be any good, but they fought through, won an area championship and had a really good season."
Because Dempsey and Cothren were busy with football recruiting visits in January, Hazel Green's lineup this season constantly changed. But now that signing day has passed, the Trojans appear to be peaking.
Jeffers, a Decatur High graduate, said he believes Hazel Green is poised for another strong postseason run.
"It's like we've said all along: You play the regular season to get ready for the postseason," he said. "The guys are buying in, and if we keep our nose to the grindstone, we have a chance to do something special."
Contact Justin Graves at 256-340-2460 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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