The rivalry is back, but tonight the stakes are different.
Austin High may have dominated the first River City contest with wins against both Decatur basketball teams, but all four teams will look to take advantage of the area contest in today’s Class 6A, Area 16 game. The girls tip off at 5:30 p.m., with the boys game starting immediately after.
For the boys, the Black Bears (9-3, 2-0) aren’t taking any chances. “It’s all about the area matchup,” Austin coach Demond Garth said. “Last time we won pretty big, but Decatur is playing better right now. Our guys really have to bring the effort and intensity.”
Austin will rely on a core of five players who are averaging about 10 points per game, including seniors Everette Mayes, Malique Elliott and Ramonda Harris.
Decatur (5-9, 0-1) is led by Na’Vante Williams, who averages 15 points and seven rebounds a game.
“It’s always intense, but it’s just like any other game,” Garth said.
Decatur coach Jamie Lee said he has emphasized his team’s performance in the practices leading up to the game.
“I’ve tried to focus more on the improvement we have made and being ready to get out on that stage and really concentrate on what we can do to have a chance to win the game,” Lee said. “I’ve said some about Austin, but very little.”
He added that the rivalry game can be as much about experience as it is about talent.
“Usually the teams that have more experience usually perform the best out there,” Lee said of Carlton Kelley Gymnasium’s 3,000-seat arena on the campus of Calhoun Community College, site of tonight’s contests.
For the girls, Austin (10-5, 2-0) comes to the court having won 50-32 in its last match against James Clemens, while Decatur (4-9) fell to Mountain Brook 47-19.
“It’s an important game because it’s an area game,” Austin coach Bruce Hamilton said. “We’re going to have to do a good job with what Decatur does. They run a lot of things at you.”
For Hamilton, the rivalry’s narrative almost goes unspoken.
“The kids know. They know the rivalry, and they know it’s a big deal, so I don’t think you have to spend too much time talking about that,” Hamilton said. “It is what it is.”
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