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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Stone Minnifield (20) grabs an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter against Stanhope Elmore.

After falling behind by 13 points in the fourth quarter, Stanhope Elmore wasted very little time fighting back in the Class 6A Area 5 boys basketball opener on Saturday. The Mustangs cut the deficit to only one point with just over two minutes to go but it was an all-too familiar play that helped Wetumpka put the cap on the victory.

After a missed floater from Wetumpka’s Tyquan Rawls, Stone Minnifield grabbed the offensive rebound and muscled back to the basket, scoring and drawing the foul. His free throw pushed the lead back to four points and Wetumpka finished off a 62-58 win.

“We had to play hard and finish every possession,” Wetumpka coach Byron Gaskin said. “From start to finish, we valued every possession. We had great effort on defense and we executed probably as well as we had all season on offense.”

Stanhope cut the lead back to one possession with 13 seconds to go and had an opportunity to tie the game but the Mustangs could not secure a loose ball after two missed free throws by Wetumpka. Rawls chased down the offense rebound and returned to the line, making 1 of 2 to put the game out of reach with three seconds on the clock.

Wetumpka (5-7, 1-0) finished with 15 offensive rebounds and scored 19 second-chance points. Minnifield led the hosts with eight rebounds including three offensive boards to go along with seven points and a block.

“We got killed on the boards,” Stanhope Elmore coach Terry Hardy said. “They got second-chance points all night and that was the difference in the game to me. That was their best offense (Saturday). That’s been our problem all year. That’s when we’ll get over the hump.”

Stanhope (4-9, 0-1) jumped out to a 14-7 lead after just five minutes but the Mustangs stalled offensively, scoring five points the rest of the first half. Stanhope was 1-for-8 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, allowing Wetumpka to take the lead for good.

“We started fast and we were attacking the goal,” Hardy said. “In the second half, we got away from everyone getting to the basket. We didn’t shoot the ball very well (Saturday) and I told them we had to adjust and start getting to the basket more.”

D.J. Jamerson, the Mustangs’ leading scorer, had a tough time getting into the paint which forced Stanhope to rely on its outside shooting. Jamerson finished with 12 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocks but he was held to just one field goal in the final 13 minutes.

“We tried to throw some different guys at him,” Gaskin said. “We have some guys that have more weight than he does so we kept him out of the paint. It is always going to start on defense for us.”

One of those players was Breyln Young who was recently brought up from JV and gave Wetumpka a spark off the bench in the third quarter, scoring five points and recording two big blocks in the paint.

“He was an asset to us (Saturday),” Gaskin said. “Everybody plays a role on this team, whether you’re in the game or not. You have to stay locked in because you never know when your number is going to be called.”

Rawls led Wetumpka with 25 points, scoring 18 in the second half. Zeylin Hooks was the only other player to reach double figures for Wetumpka, finishing with 11 points and four rebounds.

Stanhope was led by Dylon Williams, who made four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Jay Tillman and Sedrick Hall each chipped in with 11 points. The Mustangs have now lost five straight but Hardy is still positive his team is moving in the right direction.

“You want to have a good record but at the end of the day, everybody is going to have a shot in basketball,” Hardy said. “We’re going to get ready. If we are playing our best ball at the end of January, this game won’t matter to us. It’s not where we wanted to be but we’ll be OK.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.