Ellwood falls to Cornerstone in 1A Central Regional Final

Published 9:40 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MONTGOMERY — Poor free throw shooting and foul trouble caught up to Ellwood Christian at the wrong time.

The Eagles went 19-for-40 from the free throw line and had their top two scorers foul out Tuesday in a 60-55 loss to Cornerstone in the 1A Central Regional final at Alabama State University. Ellwood led by eight with 5:14 left, but Cornerstone finished the game on a 15-2 run.

“We missed 21 free throws?” said a surprised Ellwood Christian coach Darrell Walker during his postgame press conference. “That’s the end of discussion. Do the math. We lost by five and missed 21 free throws. Even if we hit half of those 21, we still could’ve won the game.”

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At times, the game was a bit ugly. There were 50 fouls called in all, with them evenly split between both teams. In the end, all those whistles started piling up against an Ellwood team that regularly plays only six or seven players.

Ellwood had a 53-45 lead with 5:14 left after a spinning layup by Ja’Mel Phillips, who led Ellwood with 15 points, but the game changed on the next possession. At the 5:03 mark of the fourth quarter, Craig fouled out and Ellwood scored only two more points the rest of the way.

“I could’ve played smarter but I was gambling at the same time,” said Craig, who hit the game winner Thursday to get Ellwood into Tuesday’s game.

Tournament MVP Darryl Grayson found his groove in the second half. Grayson went 6-for-9 from the field and scored a game high 15 points to lead the Cornerstone rally.

John Stanford knocked down two 3-pointers, including one that tied the game at 55-55 with 3:01 to play. Ellwood’s Chris Lee fouled out on the next possession, leaving Ellwood without two of its top playmakers.

Cornerstone took the lead on two free throws by Eriq Williams with 2:17 left. Justin Bufford and Phillips each had two free throws to tie the game, but both missed. With a chance to put it away, Cornerstone’s Joel Merchant and Stanford knocked in free throws over the final 30 seconds.

“I’m so happy for our kids and them believing in me in my first year and doing everything I’ve asked them to do,” said Cornerstone coach Ronald Steele. “I’m proud for our guys, especially our seniors and proud for our school, us being a new school.”

Cornerstone led 28-25 at halftime, but Ellwood tied the game on a Phillips’ layup early in the quarter and led until Cornerstone’s final rally.

Four players scored in double figures for Ellwood. Lee had 13, Bufford 11 and Craig scored 10.

This was Ellwood’s first trip to Montgomery for the regional round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoffs. Their goal now is to get back next year.

“This has been a monumental step for our program,” Walker said.