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Caleb Turrentine / Tallapoosa Publishers Stanhope Elmore’s Teddy Harris (3) defends Wetumpka’s Lacorey Marshall (1) during Saturday’s championship game.

The first half of the basketball season had plenty of ups and downs for Stanhope Elmore but the Mustangs weren’t too worried about the results early on as many of the games were played without the roster at full strength. After missing some time due to an injury, Teddy Harris made his season debut just before Christmas but with limited action in practice up to that point, it was tough to see what kind of impact he would make on the rest of the season.

Harris got back closer to 100 percent after the holiday break and he made sure that impact was more clear in some big moments last week. He helped lead Stanhope Elmore to the title in the annual Elmore County tournament while claiming the Most Valuable Player honors. “He is just a very smart individual and he knows the game really well,” SEHS coach David Cochran said. “He’s just really good at situational basketball. It’s all the little stuff that makes a difference… MVP was a hard choice but that was the one thing that probably gave him the edge.”

Harris suffered a lower leg injury toward the end of football season and was not still not cleared to play once basketball season started.

“It feels good to be back out here with my teammates,” Harris said. “When I was sitting back and watching practice and games, it made me miss playing. So to get back out here, it feels good.”

The Mustangs squared off with rival Wetumpka in the championship and Harris quickly took on the spotlight in the early minutes of the game. He scored five of the team’s first eight points including a three-point play on a fast break after getting a steal.

Harris went on to finish with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. He made four free throws in the game’s final 90 seconds to help the Mustangs seal the title.

“This night feels pretty good,” Harris said. “We beat our rivals and we did it basketball and football. We still have to see them again though and we want to get another win.”

After getting two steals in the opening two minutes against Wetumpka, Harris continued to keep the pressure on defensively. He led the Mustangs with six steals which included a pair of takeaways in the final minute.

“It’s just about being a dog,” Harris said. “My mindset is to hold whoever I’m guarding to zero points and to get a lot of steals.”

The return of Harris at point guard has already helped the flow of the team’s offense through three games. A shared scoring attack made a big difference in the championship game as five different players reached double figures

“He takes so much pressure off everybody else,” Cochran said. “When he’s in, it’s just one more person you have to worry about. So many people can get focused in on a Jay Tillman or a Dylon Williams but he’s kind of that sleeper guy. If you don’t respect him, he’ll hurt you. He did that this whole tournament.”

Cochran said the backcourt pairing of Tillman and Harris is something the team has been looking forward to seeing all season. Harris may have walked away with the MVP award but Tillman led the Mustangs in scoring in the final with 15 points to go with five assists as the two guards fed off each other for most of the night.

“It has opened up things for Jay to get to the basket or use his mid-range game more,” Cochran said. “He’s worked hard on developing a deeper shot so that’s coming out more. Having multiple guards that can handle the ball and take the pressure off of each other is huge.”

Harris believes his hot start is just the beginning of what he expects to be a strong second half of the season and the win over Wetumpka could be a sign of things to come.

“We want to treat this like any other win but we know this is kind of a big win,” Harris said. “We want to use it and get back in the gym to practice and act like champions.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.