BREMEN — As the final buzzer sounded, Hatton boys coach Justin Henley sprinted to the locker room in excitement.
Who could blame him?
In Hatton's 54-48 win at Cold Springs, the Hornets trailed Cold Springs by 10 in the fourth quarter and the season was on the verge of ending. But when good teams are backed into a corner, they turn to what they do best. For Hatton, that is defense.
They say defense wins championships, and while it didn’t win a championship Monday, it certainly won a Class 2A Northwest Regional semifinal.
The Hornets outscored the Eagles 23-10 in the fourth quarter and advanced to Friday's regional championship game against Sheffield.
“I was really impressed with our defense. That’s who we are, but I was second-guessing myself coming in because I wasn’t sure we could guard them (man-to-man) with the way they pound it inside,” Henley said. “They play high-low more than anybody in the state of Alabama, but our guys just kept battling, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Hatton scored the game's first 12 points. However, foul trouble caught up to it as stars Ridge Harrison and Kris O’Dell both sat the second quarter. Cold Springs kept chipping away at the lead until it nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take its first lead, 26-24 at halftime.
The Eagles pushed their lead to 38-31 by the end of the third and led by 10 in the fourth quarter.
But Hatton is a senior-heavy team that’s been in these positions, so it wasn't going to flinch. O’Dell knocked down a 3 to start Hatton's comeback, and its stingy defense forced turnovers and empty possessions to allow them to complete it.
“The confidence this team has right now is just unreal,” Henley said. “We shot it well early, but we couldn’t score in the second and third quarter. But even though we were struggling, they never ran away with it. Then we just had some guys step up and make some plays.”
Free throws were big down the stretch. The Hornets were 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the final quarter.
“I wish we would have made a couple more and maybe my blood pressure wouldn’t be so high,” Henley said. “When we got it to six, I felt like at two possessions we had a good chance of winning.”
Ridge Harrison scored 20 points and Carter Reed added 10 for Hatton, which faces Sheffield at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Wallace State in Hanceville.
The Hornets are trying for their first state semifinal berth since 1999 when they won the Northwest Regional by beating Pickens County 88-87 in overtime. Hatton, which led by as many as 24 points in regulation, won with two free throws with 6 seconds remaining in overtime.
Who made those free throws? Henley.
“This is unbelievable,” Henley said the Hornets making the regional finals. “I’m so happy for this team.”
• Hatton girls 65, Cold Springs 49: Kamie Kirk scored 20 points and the Hornets knocked off defending regional champion Cold Springs and avenged regional losses to the Eagles each of the last two seasons.
Josie Harville added 15 points for Hatton. Toni West led Cold Springs with 29.
Hatton plays Falkville at 9 a.m. Friday at Wallace State for the regional title.