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Calhoun County Basketball

Jacksonville’s players collect their trophy after winning the 73rd annual Calhoun County tournament Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville’s players collect their trophy after winning the 73rd annual Calhoun County tournament Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – No. 2 seed Oxford girls make it three consecutive county titles. No. 3 Jacksonville boys end No. 1 Oxford’s string of five county titles.

Pairings, days, times

CALHOUN COUNTY TOURNAMENT
At Pete Mathews Coliseum

BOYS
Saturday, Jan. 13
No. 11 Faith Christian 71, No. 14 Jacksonville Christian 58
No. 12 Ohatchee 59, No. 13 Wellborn 31
Monday, Jan. 15
No. 7 Weaver 52, No. 10 Pleasant Valley 35
No. 8 Saks 46, No. 9 Donoho 36
No. 6 Piedmont 56, Faith 49
No. 5 White Plains 66, Ohatchee 32
Wednesday, Jan. 17
No. 2 Anniston 95, Weaver 39
No. 3 Jacksonville 63, Piedmont 58
Thursday, Jan. 17
No. 1 Oxford 80, Saks 38
No. 4 Alexandria 62, White Plains 50
Semifinals: Jacksonville 66, Anniston 41
Semifinals: Oxford 59, Alexandria 53
Friday, Jan. 19
Championship: Jacksonville 56, Oxford 36

GIRLS
Saturday Jan. 13
No. 11 Weaver 53, No. 6 Saks 50
Monday, Jan. 15
No. 10 Ohatchee 44, No, 7 White Plains 35
No. 9 Wellborn 64, No. 8 Jacksonville Christian 36
No. 4 Piedmont 48, No. 13 Pleasant Valley 21
No. 5 Alexandria 56, No. 12 Faith Christian 21
Wednesday, Jan. 17
No. 2 Oxford 69, Ohatchee 21
No. 1 Anniston 75, Wellborn 16
No. 3 Jacksonville 57, Weaver 19
Piedmont 60, Alexandria 25
Thursday, Jan. 18
Semifinals: Oxford 71, Jacksonville 38
Semifinals: Anniston 64, Piedmont 39
Friday, Jan. 19
Championship: Oxford 47, Anniston 41

Girls’ final

Oxford’s Xai Whitfield goes up for two against Anniston in Friday’s Calhoun County championship game in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford’s Xai Whitfield goes up for two against Anniston in Friday’s Calhoun County championship game in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

ANNISTON-OXFORD GIRLS

End 1Q: Anniston leads Oxford 15-9. A’Kayla Perry has hit three 3-pointers.
Halftime: Oxford leads 21-17.
End 3Q: Oxford leads 33-26. Xai Whitfield has 13 points, and Shay Montgomery 11. Perry leads Anniston with nine, all in the first quarter.
Final: Oxford wins its third consecutive Calhoun County title, 47-41. Whitfield finishes with 17 points and Montgomery 15.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

White Plains: Cooper Martin.
Wellborn: Anna Odom.
Alexandria: Charlee Parris, Allyssa Hunt.
Piedmont: Ava Pope, Cayla Brothers, Jaycee Glover.
Anniston: Tykeria Smith, Serena Hardy, A’Kayla Perry.
Oxford: Xai Whitfield, Bri Wilson, JaMea Gaston, Ava Thomas.
Most valuable player
Xai Whitfield, Oxford
Offensive MVP
Bri Wilson, Oxford
Defensive MVP
Tykeria Smith, Anniston

Oxford, the 2023 Calhoun County champion and winner of three county titles in a row. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford, the 2023 Calhoun County champion and winner of three county titles in a row. (Photo by Joe Medley)

OXFORD 47, ANNISTON 41: No longer let it be said that Oxford’s run of Calhoun County championships in girls’ basketball was about the Yellow Jackets’ best teams being timed with a less-than-best Anniston.

Oxford won its third in a row Friday. The Yellow Jackets did it with the No. 2 seed. They beat top seed Anniston, which has 21 wins this season.

Oxford did it with a team rebuilding around star senior, Tennessee State signee and county-tournament most valuable player Xai Whitfield.

“From the way we started to the way we’re playing now, it’s a night-and-day difference,” said Oxford coach Melissa Bennett, who has not delivered Oxford’s first three county titles since 2005-06. “Our girls have done a great job of jelling.

“It’s not always been easy, but they’ve done a great job. I’m so proud of them.”

Oxford’s graduation losses since winning the 2022 county title include a lot of the production on their Class 6A state runner-up team from that season. The challenge this season was getting younger players to find their place around Whitfield, a fourth-year standout, and raise their games enough that Whitfield has help.

The emerging success story showed Friday. Whitfield scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but Oxford also got eight points from Bri Wilson, the tourney’s offensive MVP.

Center Shay Montgomery came up biggest against Anniston, with 15 points and nine rebounds. Her performance came after Bennett challenged her to be more assertive.

“They always tell me I’m the biggest person to deal with, and I’ve got to play like it,” Montgomery said. “Tonight, I played like it.”

As for the rest, Oxford’s success Friday took one major adjustment after Anniston’s A’Kayla Perry hit three 3-pointers to help Anniston lead 15-9 after the first quarter. Perry didn’t score the rest of the game.

But for Serena Hardy’s five threes in the second half, including four in the fourth quarter to account for her 15 points, the margin could’ve easily looked more like the 56-38 spread the Yellow Jackets enjoyed over an Anniston team that missed an injured Hardy in 2023.

Anniston’s Jada Fomby drives against Oxford in Friday’s Calhoun County championship game in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Anniston’s Jada Fomby drives against Oxford in Friday’s Calhoun County championship game in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Anniston has won 21 county titles, including five in a row before Oxford won its three in a row. The Bulldogs have made the final eight years in a row and remain a county power.

A perennial Class 4A power, Anniston is 21-4, and three of its losses have come against Class 6A teams.

“I told my girls I was proud of them,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said. “Oxford is defending county champs, and they’ve got a good team.

“They weren’t as strong as they’ve been the past couple of years. Xaionna is a great player, and I felt like, if we could contain the other girls, we would be fine. That Montgomery girl ate us alive on the boards, and that was the difference.”

Bennett has uplifted Oxford to county supremacy the past three years. She did it this year while coaching the county’s best player in Whitfield, but she did it with an otherwise rebuilding team that’s gained footing.

“This one was actually more special, because we have a younger team,” Whitfield said. “We didn’t start off good at the beginning of the season, so to have this, especially for my senior year, it feels a lot different.”

Boys’ final

Jacksonville’s Jaquan Ervin goes to the basket for two as Oxfords Marcus Perry, Jr. defends during Friday’s Calhoun County boys’ final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville’s Jaquan Ervin goes to the basket for two as Oxfords Marcus Perry, Jr. defends during Friday’s Calhoun County boys’ final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

JACKSONVILLE-OXFORD BOYS

End 1Q: Jacksonville leads Oxford 13-11.
Halftime: Jacksonville goes on a 12-0 run, leads 35-23. Devin Barksdale has 15 points.
End 3Q: Jacksonville leads 43-27. Barksdale still has 15 points, and Jaquan Ervin has 10.
Final: Jacksonville wins 56-36, bags first county title since 1995, ending Oxford’s string of five consecutive county titles.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Alexandria: Drake Davis, Quandavion McDowell.
Anniston: Isaiah Allen.
Faith Christian: Conner Richerzhagen.
Jacksonville: Devin Barksdale, Aaron Nixon, Jaquan Ervin.
Jacksonville Christian: Noah Lee.
Ohatchee: Colby Hester.
Oxford: Jaylen Alexander, Marcus Perry Jr.
Piedmont: Ishmael Bethel.
Weaver: KeShawn Allen.
White Plains: Carter Johnson, Josh Wheeler.
Most valuable player
Devin Barksdale, Jacksonville.
Defensive MVP
Damonte Sinclair, Jacksonville.
Offensive MVP
Jaylen Alexander, Oxford

Jacksonville poses for a group picture with its student section after winning its first Calhoun County title in boys’ basketball since 1995 Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville poses for a group picture with its student section after winning its first Calhoun County title in boys’ basketball since 1995 Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

JACKSONVILLE 56, OXFORD 36: Strolling the sideline late in Jacksonville’s decisive victory over Oxford in the 73rd Calhoun County boys’ final, Tres Buzan looked at Devin Barksdale and asked a question.

“Who would’ve thought that this would be the team?” the coach asked this game’s most valuable player.

Barksdale scored 18 points, and Jaquan Ervin added 12, and No. 3 seed Jacksonville held top seed Oxford to 36 percent shooting while avenging losses to Oxford in the last two county finals and ending Oxford’s string of five consecutive county titles.

Jacksonville’s players collect their trophy after winning the 73rd annual Calhoun County tournament Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Jacksonville’s players collect their trophy after winning the 73rd annual Calhoun County tournament Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

The Jacksonville team that won the 2022 Class 4A state title, Jacksonville’s first in boys’ basketball, couldn’t top Class 6A Oxford in the county final. Oxford win 64-62.

The Jacksonville team that won the 2023 4A state title couldn’t do it. Oxford won that county final 43-40.

John Broom, twins Caden and Cam Johnson and Ethan Duke graduated, leaving Barksdale and a mostly new cast.

“That last two teams, they were the one seed,” said Buzan, in his second season as Jacksonville’s head coach. “This group didn’t get that, and just really proud of them, how they came out and fought.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you play together and play hard.”

Jacksonville didn’t just win the 73rd Calhoun County tournament. It dominated, beating No. 6 Piedmont 63-58 in the third meeting between those teams this season, No. 2 Anniston 66-51 in the semifinals to avenge a loss to the Bulldogs on Dec. 21 then No. 1 Oxford by a shocking 20 points.

“We just got our butts kicked,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “Bottom line, we got our butts kicked, and give all the credit to Jacksonville. They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.

“I think they wanted it a lot more. That’s on me, and we just didn’t play well.”

Jacksonville’s rout of Oxford came a day after Barksdale made reference to recent “soul searching” among a team with a mostly new cast. Does Friday’s game indicate the Golden Eagles found their soul?

“We’re getting a piece of it,” said Barksdale, sixth man on Jacksonville’s first state-title team and point man on the second. “We’re still not no where near our peak.

“Finding our roles wasn’t the problem. It’s just the connection we have. The chemistry, we’ve got to get that better.”

Jacksonville seemed to have it Friday, notably on defense. In what Buzan called “a team effort,” the Golden Eagles held standout Oxford guard and thousand-point scorer as a sophomore Jaylen Alexander to six points.

He hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter and made one trip to the foul line, missing both shots.

Tournament defensive MVP Damonte Sinclair had a hand in it … when he wasn’t diving on the floor for loose balls. One of those dives resulted in his being helped off the court, but he returned to the action.

Barksdale, who went to elementary school with Alexander at Saks, spent a lot of time one-on-one with Alexander.

“He’s a hell of a player, and I love him like my brother,” Barksdale said. “He’s a great player, and I can’t say nothing else. We held him to six, and that was great for us. That really contributed to our win.”

Oxford has also missed shooting guard T.J. Allen, who was lost for the season with a back injury. Perhaps it was fate’s parallel for then-Jacksonville center Cade Phillips missing the 2022 county tournament with a foot injury.

But Jacksonville outrebounded Oxford 28-19, had 11 assists to Oxford’s three and committed only nine turnovers while shooting 50 percent (20-for-40) from the field.

“We came in, and we were the underdog,” Erving said. “We knew we had nothing to lose, so we just came out, put it all on the line, put our body on the line, so we just upset everybody tonight.”

Oxford’s Anthony Bush (25), Jacksonville’s Sean Herbert (21) and Ky’dric Fisher battle for a rebound during Friday’s Calhoun County boys’ final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford’s Anthony Bush (25), Jacksonville’s Sean Herbert (21) and Ky’dric Fisher battle for a rebound during Friday’s Calhoun County boys’ final in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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