State champs!

Chatman steal keys Cordova victory

By W. BRIAN HALE, Eagle Sports Writer
Posted 3/2/18

BIRMINGHAM — The third time was a charm for the Cordova Blue Devils.

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State champs!

Chatman steal keys Cordova victory


BIRMINGHAM — The third time was a charm for the Cordova Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils rallied from an 11-point, third-period deficit behind a stellar fourth-period effort and clutch plays by their senior stars to beat the Madison Academy Mustangs 56-54, on Friday to win the Class 4A state championship at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena in Birmingham.

The title is the first for the program, as well as the first basketball championship for Walker County.

For the senior trio of Isaac Chatman, Jayce Willingham and Demetrius Kirk, as well as head coach Heath Burns, the championship win came in the midst of overcoming great adversity.

After losing the title game in the 2016 tournament to Westminster Christian, then being eliminated by eventual state champion Hale County in 2017, Cordova entered the season with high expectations, but were quickly stunned by the news that senior Kolbi Fuqua would be out for most of the season after recovering from shoulder surgery.

Overcoming the adversity on the court from a tough slate of opponents from different classifications in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, the Blue Devils battled their way through the area, sub-region and Northwest Regional tournaments, beating Andalusia on Tuesday to make it back to the title game — completing a circle that began when Chatman, Willingham and Kirk first stepped onto the court together in varsity play.

“This championship game defined our entire year. Our three seniors told me they were going to win it — and a few times I thought I didn’t believe those guys, but every time we’d games by two, three or four points, it was like a domino effect. I’ve never been around three kids that persevered like they have this season. A lot of kids quit like when we were at halftime, but it’s what we’ve faced all year,” Burns said. “It was just repetition for them — they’ve done it so much. They’re going to be winners in life — they’re going to be great fathers, great people and successful young men — that’s what I’m most proud of. Now they’ll always be known as state champions.”

All three seniors were named to the All-State Tournament team, with Chatman selected as the MVP. Chatman finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, a block and three steals, while Kirk had 17 points and five rebounds. Willingham scored 15 points and had eight rebounds and a block.

All three seniors, overjoyed at the greatest achievement in thier high school careers, couldn’t hide their pride in the title victory.

“It’s hard to understand what we did — I can’t explain the feeling,” Willingham said. “It’s something you work for since the first time you pick up a basketball. I’m proud we were able to do it.”

“Coming in here as seniors and being able to accomplish winning a championship for the first time in our county is a feeling I’ll never forget,” Chatman said.

“Coach Burns told me there was a time in the game that I would have to step up and make plays — that’s what I did,” Kirk said. “Winning a title, it’s a great feeling. You dream about it and we’ve gotten close twice before, but having to go through everything we have to get to this point and know we’ve won the championship makes it that much more rewarding.”

The teams battled through several ties in the first period, but foul trouble mounted for Chatman, forcing him to bench with over three minutes left until the second period. A two-point shot by Kirk allowed Cordova to tie the game at 18-18 at the end of the period.

After a short two-point lead midway through the second period by Cordova, 25-23, Madison Academy scored 10 unanswered points to close out the first half on top, 33-25.

The Mustangs took their biggest lead of the game at 11 points, 36-25, before the Blue Devils began to battle back. With Chatman back in the game, Cordova outscored Madison Academy 16-8 to pull within three points, 44-41, heading into the fourth period.

The lead changed hands three times in the final period, with Madison Academy holding a two-point edge at one minute left in regulation, 54-52. After being fouled on an offensive rebound, Willingham hit two free throws to tie the game at 54-54, with 14 seconds left on the clock.

On the ensuing play, Chatman made a series of plays that garnered his MVP accolades. Stealing a Madison Academy pass, Chatman raced down the floor before being fouled attempting a layup. The resulting two good free throws, plus a block and rebound on the Mustangs’ final possession, earned the Blue Devils the championship win.

“It all just went back to halftime. Demetrius and Jayce had both said we need you during the second period when I was on the bench. When we came back from halftime, I looked at the both and said I had them,” Chatman said. “I just went out and played. When I got that steal, I knew we had to finish it. I knew I still had to make free throws to seal the game — if I didn’t, it could have been their win or overtime. I had to do it for the team.”

Cordova, the AHSAA Class 4A state champions, finished the year with a 27-8 record.