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Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle senior Eric Stephenson prepares to pass. | Caleb Suggs

Tigers’ season ends in final seconds

Caleb Suggs

Hartselle Enquirer

One missed shot. That was how close the Hartselle Tigers came to advancing to their first regional tournament since 2003. The Hartselle Tigers traveled to Muscle Shoals for the sub regional round on Tuesday night to take on the defending state runners up. Both the Muscle Shoals and Hartselle faithful showed up in full and the atmosphere couldn’t have been more electric in one of the most back and forth affairs in recent memory.

Hartselle took the advantage first when Eric Stephenson came up with a steal and basket to put the Tigers up 10-6. The Trojans took the lead back following a basket from Terrell McDonald and a three point shot from Jacob Vandiver. The Trojans led after one 16-15.

Muscle Shoals took their biggest lead of the game in the second at 20-15. However, Hartselle closed the quarter on a 14-4 run to take the lead 29-24 at halftime. Stephenson had six points during the run and Seth Garner had four.

In the second quarter, Hartselle couldn’t muster much offense and the Trojans took advantage by going on a 12-2 run to take a 36-31 lead. Still, Hartselle only trailed by two at the end of the third, thanks to a three point play from Stephenson, which set up an exciting finish in the fourth.

The two teams went back and forth the whole fourth quarter. Hartselle took the lead 46-44 and then got a steal with just a minute and nine seconds left. However, the Tigers were called with a charge, which gave the Trojans the ball back. Muscle Shoals took the lead 51-50 with 19 seconds left, giving Hartselle one opportunity to take win. Hartselle worked the ball around and got it to Stephenson inside, but his shot bounced out with one-second left on the clock and the Trojans held on to win 51-50. Eric Stephenson finished as the Hartselle’s leading scorer with 17 points while Seth Garner had 10. Kyle Eddy and Trace Hill both finished with eight. Terrell McDonald led the Trojans with 15.

“It was a fun game to coach and play in. I’m proud of how my guys prepared going into the game. We knew their personnel, sets, tendencies and what challenges they presented to us. I have smart players who are totally invested in doing their part in winning and that starts with our seniors and it trickles down to the others.” Hartselle head coach Faron Key said. “I’m extremely proud of my team for the fight and passion they played with all year. This is great to establishing a winning program. Now it’s up to the younger guys to try and push the bar even higher than this year’s team did.”

Hartselle’s season ended with the loss, but the Tigers succeeded in changing the culture of the program. The Tigers finished with the program’s first winning record since 2008 at 18-10.