Eagles top Linden 68-65 to clinch Area crown

THOMASTON – After ending a 16-year drought with a regular-season sweep of Linden High School, A.L. Johnson’s Eagles completed the trifecta with a 68-65 win over the visiting Patriots to capture the Class A, Area 4 championship Friday night.

“These kids have worked so hard,” said A.L. Johnson head coach Johnney Ford. “I am so proud for our seniors. We haven’t had a winning season in several years, and now this group will go out winners.”

Area Champions - A.L. Johnson Eagles

Area Champions – A.L. Johnson Eagles

The 10th-ranked Eagles improved to 11-4 with the win, and will host the Georgiana-J.F. Shields loser in sub-region action next week.

Capturing the Area crown and a third win over LHS didn’t come easy. The Patriots jumped to a 19-13 lead after one quarter and extended the margin to 10 at the half, 38-28.

The third period proved pivotal, however, as ALJ opened with an 11-2 run to cut Linden’s lead to 40-39 with 4:14 remaining. Jeremy Mitchell’s steal and lay-in gave the Eagles a 41-40 advantage moments later.

A.L. Johnson managed to take a 47-44 margin into the fourth, and Desmond Mair’s strong move to the bucket and ensuing foul shot gave the Eagles a 50-44 lead early in the fourth. Using strong defensive work on the boards and a fast break offense, ALJ pushed the advantage to 58-48 with 5:30 to play.

Linden chipped away at the lead, and Isaiah Scott’s lay-up with 47.5 seconds to play cut the Eagle lead to 68-63. Scott repeated the feat with 5.1 seconds left, trimming the margin to one possession at 68-65, but a Linden desperation shot after a turnover appeared to come well after the buzzer. The timing of the shot became a moot point when it failed to fall.

Ford attributed the third quarter turnaround to his team’s ability to settle down at the half.

“I think our guys were a little uptight, because they had never played in a game this big,” he said. “We started out slow, but were able to come out in the second half with some intensity and really started driving the ball to the bucket.”

Linden head coach Royce McKinney said A.L. Johnson “just fought a little harder in the second half. We came out flat after the half, and they just came out wanting it more.”

Linden falls to 8-14, and will travel to the Georgiana-J.F.Shields winner in sub-region play next week.

Mitchell led A.L. Johnson with 18 points, followed by Charles Edwards’ 17 and Tywon Scott’s 13.

Linden’s Dewayne Charleston led all scorers with 22 points.