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Caster, super sophs help No. 1 Jackson to 17th straight win

Jackson’s Micah Caster drives up the floor against Andalusia Monday in the Class 4A South Regional semifinals at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. Caster scored 15 points, including a pivotal 3-pointer to give the Aggies the lead for good late in the game. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

 

 

By JIMMY WIGFIELD

MONTGOMERY — Micah Caster’s early foul trouble might have kept No. 1-ranked Jackson from disposing of Andalusia in the first half.

But Caster, the Aggies’ leading scorer, shoved the No. 9 Bulldogs toward the exits at Garrett Coliseum when the season weighed on his shoulders.

Caster’s long 3-pointer off a screen gave Jackson the lead for good with 2:19 remaining and the Aggies went on to win their 17th straight game, a 65-58 victory Monday that put them in the Class 4A South Regional finals.

Caster, who averages 19 points per game, finished with 15 after picking up two fouls in the first period, scoring just 8 points in the first half and being limited to 20 minutes.

“Caster’s been a big-time player for us all year and against a quality opponent like that, we want the ball in his hands down the stretch,” said Jackson coach Anthony Hayes, whose team is now 27-2. “He got into foul trouble but we preach next man up. We told them at halftime, ‘If Micah Caster doesn’t get to play, what are we going to do?’ We just keep playing.”

Jackson held the Bulldogs (21-9) to just 3-of-14 shooting in the fourth period while the Aggies shot 61% themselves on the way to Wednesday’s 5:45 p.m. regional final against Escambia County (17-8), a team they have beaten three times this season. The winner goes to the state tournament in Birmingham.

“We really locked in defensively and got some stops,” Hayes said. “The defense has been our identity. We preach defense to them every day. Down the stretch, we executed defensively.”

And Caster executed when it was needed most.

“I had a lot of frustration not playing that many minutes,” he said. “I had a hard time getting into a rhythm.”

But his 3-pointer off the screen was swallowed by the net and started Jackson’s closing 8-1 run.

Nasir Powell led the Aggies with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Sophomore starters Keeyun Chapman and William Taylor added 11 and 10 points, respectively, and each had 8 rebounds as Jackson owned the backboards 37-18.

Hayes starts a third sophomore in Landon Duckworth, the highly rated quarterback who has committed to South Carolina.

“They play above the level they should be at,” Hayes said. “They play like seniors.”

The Aggies, who led by as many as 11 points in the second period, trailed 49-46 going into the fourth period but would not be denied.

“We tell our guys being ranked No. 1 is a compliment from the state but it also means we’re wearing a target,” Hayes said.

Jackson’s last defeat was a 52-49 setback to Class 7A Auburn on Dec. 30. And now the Aggies must beat a talented Escambia County team featuring 6-9 center Stephen Williams and guard Cleo Bolar for the fourth time this season.

Jackson has beaten the Blue Devils 58-40 in the area finals and 63-45 and 48-44 in the regular season, when Caster was held to 12 points and Williams 10.

“None of that matters now,” Hayes said. “We’ve got four quarters to go to Birmingham. We’ve got to be the best team on that night.”

Caster isn’t taking another win for granted.

“The regular season is over with,” he said. “It’s one game at a time. (Williams) is something to deal with. He can change the game. You can’t get to the rim on him.”

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