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Lizi Arbogast / Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Dadeville's PJ Eason (34) takes a shot against Elmore County's Jazion Reed.

Despite losing by a rather lopsided score, there wasn’t much that was lopsided in Monday night’s boys basketball game between Elmore County and Dadeville.

The Panthers, who knew they were young and inexperienced coming into the season, didn’t let the Tigers, who are chock full of seniors, scare them away. Elmore County went point for point with Dadeville before allowing the Tigers to pull away in the second half for a 59-41 victory.

“What I was proud of (Monday night) is Dadeville’s got a really good team,” ECHS coach Rodney Taylor said. “They’re senior-oriented with a 6-foot-9 guy (PJ Eason) in the middle and we played our butts off against them. (The score) got stretched there at the end but it was a close ballgame. With our effort and our energy and our never quitting, if we just keep building off that, we’re going to be fine.”

In their season opener, the Tigers came out hot with four straight points to start the game but the Panthers answered right back. Elmore County was extremely hot from beyond the arc, landing five 3-pointers in the opening half, and it never let Dadeville get more than two or three possessions ahead.

All that changed though midway through the third quarter. After Payton Stephenson hit another three longballs in the frame, the Panthers (1-2) couldn’t get much else going offensively.

“I told our guys to keep applying pressure and we were going to wear them down a little bit,” Dadeville coach Jesse Foster said. “We were up by four at halftime and I told them I wanted to be up by double digits at the end of the third quarter and we were. We outscored them by 10 in the third and then by eight in the fourth quarter. So we’re going to rely on that pressure to wear folks down.”

Dadeville (1-0) did just that as it forced the Panthers into 13 turnovers through the middle two quarters combined and quite a few of those came directly from Tiger steals. Eason led the Dadeville defense with three steals while Tripp McKinley added two.

Although the Tigers do have four seniors on the starting lineup, they also got quite a bit of assistance from their younger players. Phil Dowdell, Avontae Wilson and Daquan Doss all showed off some of their defensive skills.

“They’re going to be big,” Foster said. “I told them in the locker room they are going to help us out on the defense especially. They’re a little nervous and they don’t understand quite what we want to do yet but they can play defense.”

Elmore County’s defense wasn’t too shabby itself. The Tigers play extremely fast-paced but the Panthers kept up with them for most of the game. Zion Reed, a sophomore, was tasked with guarding Eason and held him to 17 points and just eight in the first half.

“Zion moved in in the spring with us and his defense on PJ for the most part was really good,” Taylor said. “PJ got a couple around the basket and a dunk there at the end, but overall Zion defended him really well — stole some balls inside and tipped some balls away. And he’s only a 10th-grader so the future is bright. We just gotta keep fighting, keep battling and keep working.”

Although Dadeville’s defense looked up to snuff, its offense wasn’t quite where Foster wanted it. But it was only Game 1. The Panthers did a nice job of limiting Dadeville’s inside game despite the Tigers having a clear size advantage at nearly every position.

“We got a new offense going,” Foster said. “It’s a lot of cutting and a lot of screens and all that, so we just gotta get comfortable in it. Then we’re going to be fine.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.