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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Dadeville's Jay Patrick, left, tries to keep possession while being pressured by Bullock County.

In 2018, Dadeville’s boys basketball team fell just short of winning an area championship.

In 2019, the Tigers won their area championship but were upset at home in the sub-regionals.

But now, it’s 2020 and Dadeville is continuing to climb the ladder.

The Tigers already won the Class 3A Area 7 championship and Tuesday night, they took things one step further by winning its Southeast Sub-Regional. They held off Bullock County for a 46-42 victory and punched their tickets to Montgomery.

“It feels good finally getting there,” Dadeville senior Jamarion Wilkerson said. “We’ve been trying every year. This is our third year and we finally made it so it’s pretty great.”

Dadeville will face Providence Christian at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Garrett Coliseum. But just because they’ve checked off this goal doesn’t mean they’re finished yet.

“This feels great,” Dadeville coach Jesse Foster said. “Last year we got beat at home and I told them we want to get a little further and further. We had to get one step further every year. So we made it another step and we’re going to try to keep this thing going Saturday.”

It wasn’t an easy feat getting there, though.

Dadeville (18-7) looked to have things in the bag heading into the fourth quarter. The Tigers led 38-26, which was their largest lead to that point. But Bullock County wasn’t having any of that.

After nipping at Dadeville’s heels for most of the game, the Hornets took off in the final frame. They scored nine unanswered points to pull within one possession and it stayed nip and tuck until the final seconds. Bullock County cut the deficit to as little as two points with 3:23 to go.

“We kinda got worried but we just had to stay calm,” Wilkerson said. “That’s what we kept saying: Stay calm and get the win.”

After Jay Patrick hit a free throw to give the Tigers a three-point cushion with 2:55 to go, neither team scored again for more than two minutes. Dadeville methodically moved the ball around before the Hornets finally fouled with 45 seconds left. 

PJ Eason hit one of his free throws but after stopping Bullock County on its ensuing possession, the Tigers were knocked with an offensive foul. The Hornets sank both free throws but they had only five seconds to work with. They immediately fouled Patrick, who nailed both of his charity shots to ice the game.

What seems to be working so well for the Tigers is how well they work together as a team. Wilkerson was the offensive standout Tuesday night, pouring in 17 points, but there have been other games when several different Tigers have stood out. Tuesday, they had five players finish with at least five points.

“Them guys play together and they love each other,” Foster said. “Us coaches are always telling them it’s a team game; it’s not an individual game. One night one may be on; the next night another might be on, so that’s what a team is all about.” 

Dadeville got off to another slow start and didn’t score until more than midway through the first quarter, but after a talking to at halftime, the Tigers turned up the heat defensively and did a lot better job on the boards.

“I told my big guys, PJ and (Jamauri) Chislom, that Bullock County was getting inside on us,” Foster said. “We had to work our tails off inside and those guys did a great job. Chislom had a great game for us in there.” 

Eason finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Chislom led the way with 10 boards and he also contributed five points and five assists.

A celebration was well-deserved Tuesday night, but the Tigers are going to right back to work because they aren’t going to be satisfied with only one step further.

“We feel good but we still gotta play,” Wilkerson said. “We can’t celebrate too long. We gotta be ready to play the next game.”

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