McGill-Toolen boys, girls looking to future after disappointing title game losses

Posted March 19, 2018

McGill-Toolen boys, girls looking to future after disappointing title game losses

It wasn’t the ending to the season that either the McGill-Toolen boys or girls basketball teams would have liked on Saturday.

Both teams suffered lopsided losses in their Class 7A championship games.

The boys lost 73-49 to No. 1 Mountain Brook in the final game of the week in Birmingham. The girls lost 56-26 to Spain Park.

However, both coaches were looking ahead not back following the games.

“I hate that this game went the way it did, but I think it will fuel us in terms of learning what we need to do to get better,” girls coach Carla Berry said. “There is a method to my madness. These girls may think I’m crazy sometimes, but I’m not. In some ways Spain Park may have done us a favor in motivating us to get better.”

RELATED: Photos from McGill's lost to Spain Park

RELATED: Photos from McGill's lost to Mountain Brook

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The Yellow Jackets finished 24-9 overall. The team has no seniors and just two juniors (Brooke Morgan and Alex Pierre). The best may be yet to come. Fans got a hint of that in Thursday’s semifinal upset of Sparkman. Freshman Nya Valentinescored 25 points in the win as McGill overcame a 14-point, first-half deficit.

“We started the year 2-4,” Pierre said. “I don’t think many people expected us to be at this point. To me, that in itself is an accomplishment. At the beginning of the season, we were not locked in. Everyone was kind of on their own shelve, but we were able to turn it around.”

Berry’s team made its fourth straight trip the final four. The Yellow Jackets have played in three of the last four state title games, though they’ve yet to win it all during that span.

Spain Park standout Claire Holt agreed that losing in the championship game may be extra motivation for McGill. It was for her Jaguars when they finished runner-up in 2017.

“We spent the whole year wondering what we could do better, trying to find that little edge that would get us over the hump,” she said. “It definitely is strong motivation.”

McGill and Spain Park were tied 7-7 after the first quarter, but the Jaguars outscored the Jackets 23-3 in the second quarter to pull away.

“We should have stopped it after the first quarter,” Berry joked. “I didn’t think we were mentally locked in like we normally are for whatever reason. We’ve got a young team, and it kind of got away from us early. We’ll get better from here.”

McGill boys coach Phillip Murphy tries to encourage his team during Saturday's championship game loss to Mountain Brook.(Vasha Hunt |

The script was similar for Murphy’s McGill boys team. The Yellow Jackets rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit on Thursday to knock off Sparkman 64-61 in the semifinals, but Mountain Brook proved way too much in the championship game.

The Spartans hit 11 3-pointers, got 26 points and 12 rebounds from junior standout Trendon Watfordand pulled away early to beat McGill convincingly. The Yellow Jackets were trying to win their second state title in three years.

“Obviously, they are really, really good and we couldn’t have played any worse,” Murphy said. “But they played a perfect game. As coaches we talked in the pre-game that if they hit six or more 3-pointers it was going to be a long afternoon, and they hit four or five in the first quarter alone.

“Our game plan focused on Watford in the middle, and we had to completely change that because of the way they stretched the floor. A lot of credit goes to 3 (Britton Johnson) and 23 (Sean Elmore). They stepped out and knocked down shots, and that changed the game. They landed a haymaker early that we couldn’t recover from.”

For the third straight year, McGill played its final game of the season in Birmingham. The Yellow Jackets finished 25-7.

“We graduated eight guys last year and there wasn’t a whole lot of chatter in the preseason about McGill-Toolen,” Murphy said. “I think people thought we would be mediocre and, in fact, we were in the state title game. I couldn’t be more proud of my team. For us to get that that point, is a testament to the resiliency of these guys and what we’ve built as a program. We’ve won consistently because our culture has been consistent.”

Unlike the girls team, the McGill boys will suffer heavy graduation losses once again. Six seniors (Oakley ColemanEric GarrorManny PatrickPeter McDonaldMatthew Russ and Eric Toth) graduate. Four started and all but Coleman, who was hurt this season, played significant roles

Still juniors Matthew McNeece and Jack Flynn return, and Murphy likes what he sees from the younger players on the way up.

“It will be the same story next year,” he said. “We will have a different cast of characters. We have a lot of guys coming up who are going to be good – not just next year but all the way down to seventh grade. I’m excited about the future and consistently having a chance to be in title contenti


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