However, in recent years, the girls team from the host city’s lone high school has been eliminated from postseason play before it could compete for a spot in the state Final 48.
This year’s Jacksonville Lady Golden Eagles are 26-4 and ranked No. 5 in the state in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. They’ll try to end that steak when they take on No. 4 Childersburg (26-1) in the Northeast Sub-Regional round of the Class 4A state playoffs tonight at 7 p.m.
Jacksonville wound up having to travel for its sub-regional game after falling 74-72 to No. 3 Anniston in the Area 10 championship game Monday night. It was the Lady Golden Eagles’ third loss in four games against the Lady Bulldogs.
Childersburg defeated Munford, the team Anniston will entertain tonight, 49-24 in the Area 9 title game. The Lady Tigers, the Talladega County tournament champions, are riding a 16-game win streak into tonight’s tilt.
“This is what we’ve practiced and played for all year,” Jacksonville senior point guard Lacey Buchanon said. “We haven’t been to regionals since I was in the eighth-grade. Our goal was to make it regionals.”
Buchanon, a Samford signee and first-team all-state selection as a junior, leads the Lady Golden Eagles in scoring, averaging 15.5 points and dishing out 5.2 assists per contest. Sharon Osterbind is second on the team in scoring at 10.7 points per game.
The 6-foot-1 junior is also the top rebounder, pulling down seven boards a contest.
Childersburg boasts its own dynamic duo in junior guard Mac Kelley and sophomore forward Kalen Starks. Kelley leads the Lady Tigers with 15 points per game to go along with eight rebounds. She’s also a hound on defense with seven steals a game. Starks is rated as one of the top 25 recruits in the state in the Class of 2014. She’s averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Kelley scored 19 Monday night against Munford and Starks pulled down 10 rebounds.
“I saw them last Monday before the area tournament. I watched them and Ben Russell,” second-year Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless said. “They’re a lot like Anniston. They’re tough and they play hard. We’re going to have to play well to beat them.”
The two teams haven’t met on the court this season. But Osterbind is familiar with Kelley’s athletic prowess, having played on a travel soccer team with her.
“She’s a great soccer player, too,” Osterbind said of Kelley, who’s committed to play soccer at Samford. “But we’ve got great athletes, too, like Lacey and Angel (Kidd) and everybody plays defense. This game makes you want to try even harder. It’s do or die. So, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”
Buchanon said she and her teammates took Monday’s loss to Anniston tough but added there weren’t any signs of discouragement when they took to the floor in practice Tuesday.
“I told them we had to come in ready to work,” she said. “The season’s not over. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get better.”
Jacksonville and Anniston could meet a fifth time this season. If they do, it’d be in the regional final with a trip to the state semifinals on the line. While Anniston would be the favorite, Chambless knows from experiences his team would have a shot.
As a sophomore at Alexandria in 1996, his Valley Cubs downed Jacksonville four times but fell to the Golden Eagles in the regional title.
But that discussion is far off right now.
“Childersburg is next,” he said.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.