Edgewood uses off time to prepare for Elite Eight

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald

Edgewood coach Darryl Free talks to his team about defense in preparation of next week’s playoff game in Montgomery.

The Edgewood boys basketball team was crowned as area champions last week after its dramatic win over Autauga. The Wildcats were rewarded with a bye into the quarterfinals of the AISA state tournament and the team has 10 days between games to prepare for its next opponent.

“We should feel like we belong,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “I told our guys they earned that No. 1 spot. They weren’t handed anything. We’re going in confident but we also have to respect each opponent we play.”

The Wildcats lost their regular season finale to Chambers but the team is hoping that game served as a blessing in disguise. Free said he wants his players to realize they cannot afford an off night during the postseason.

“I think in the long run, it may be better for us to lose that game,” Edgewood junior Robert Stewart said. “If we had won, we may not have practiced hard but this is one of the best practices we’ve had in a while. I think it could have been a good thing.”

The Wildcats will go to the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl on Tuesday for their next game. They will play against the winner of Thursday’s Escambia-South Choctaw game with a spot in the state semifinals on the line.

“I’ll go watch them Thursday night,” Free said. “We don’t have a lot of film on them; I’m trying to find some but I’ll take a trip down there to watch both teams play.”

Edgewood was ranked No. 8 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll of the regular season but it was the third highest ranked team in AISA-AA. Lakeside is the top-ranked team in the state and the Wildcats are hoping they get a chance to play Lakeside in a run to the state title game.

“Lakeside is playing the best basketball in the state,” Free said. “They’re No. 1 in the state for a reason. They may have to go through Autauga so we just have to see who we have to go through to hopefully get an opportunity to play them.”

While the Wildcats are confident in their ability to make a run in the tournament, they want to continue to see improvements over the next week during practice. Free said Edgewood will have to be more consistent on the offensive side of the ball.

“We’re going to have to shoot the ball well,” Free said. “Teams know we like to drive the ball so we have to shoot the 3. If we can shoot well, I feel like we can compete with anybody.”

The Wildcats want to enter Tuesday’s game with confidence but the players have to find a balance between confident and arrogant. Senior JC Bush said that has been the team’s mindset all season.

“We try to be confident but not cocky,” Bush said. “You have to walk in the gym and we’re going to respect our opponent but we know the work we’re putting in every day is going to pay off.”

Free said he is just looking for the team to get better every day as it prepares for the postseason. The players are ready to get back on the court but they also understand improvements have to be made if they want to earn the school’s second basketball state title since 2016.

“I think we’re at a good spot right now,” Bush said. “We still have to take it game by game but we’re three games away from being state champions.”

Note: Edgewood’s girls team defeated Hooper 56-34 on Tuesday night. CJ Weldon scored 21 points, reaching 1,000 for her career, as the Wildcats advanced to Tuesday’s quarterfinals. They will play Monroe at noon at the Multiplex at Cramton.