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TOUGH PATH TO PLAYOFFS: Bulldogs know there is still work to be done

The No. 8-ranked Andalusia Bulldogs look to go full-steam ahead as they enter the heart of Class 4A, Area 2 play in the month of January.

“This year, I feel like we have been challenged more early in the year,” Andalusia head coach Anthony Clark said. “We have played five ranked teams so far this year and four have been in higher classifications. At this point last year, we hadn’t played any and we did that to prepare area play in January and February.”

Andalusia got area play started last week and came away with split decisions.

In the opening area contest, the Bulldogs fell 57-44 to No. 5 Escambia County. Escambia County is the team that eliminated the Bulldogs from playoff contention last year.

“We gave to become a better rebounding team,” Clark said. “That was a glaring problem in the loss to Escambia County. We only had 11 total rebounds as a team and you aren’t going to be able to beat many teams doing that.”

Andalusia responded well to the loss to Escambia County as they bounced back with a big area win over W.S. Neal on the road in Brewton.

“I was proud of the way we responded the next night against W.S. Neal,” Clark said. “In contrast to the Escambia County game, Keaun Samuel had 11 rebounds by himself against W.S. Neal.”

Area play doesn’t get any easier for the Bulldogs moving forward as they travel to Monroeville tonight to take on No. 7-ranked Monroe County.

Losing the first area game of the year is something that Clark said leaves the Bulldogs fighting to secure home-court advantage for the area tournament.

“Our area is so tough from top to bottom,” Clark said. “It’s extremely important to get that No. 1 seed for the area tournament. Not because you play against a No. 4 seed, because our No. 4 seed is capable of beating the No. 1 seed, but because of playing at home.”

In Clark’s season and a half at Andalusia, the Bulldogs have only lost one home game.

To be able to secure the top seed, Clark said it all starts against Monroe County.

“We have to start with a win tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 9) against Monroe County,” Clark said. “Then next week we have to beat them here and hope that they at least split with Escambia County. That’s the bad thing about losing the first area game of the season. It puts your destiny in the hands of other teams.”

Monroe County returns many players from last year’s team that lost to Hale County in the state championship game.

Only two teams from Class 4A, Area 2 can make the playoffs, meaning a top-10 team could be bounced in area tournament before even getting a shot a the postseason.

Clark said coming into the year that he knew the area would be tough again this year and decided to put the Bulldogs up against bigger challenges over the Christmas break.

During Christmas break, the Bulldogs traveled to Hoover where they participated in the 2017 Big Orange Classic.

The Bulldogs showed no mercy in the event as they upset Class 6A’s top-ranked Ramsay in the opening round of the tournament.

Clark said that while the road may be challenging, he knows he has the players that are willing to step up and make plays.

“I’m still anxious to see how the kids respond when we take on Monroe County, but I’m proud of the them for the things they have overcome this year,” Clark said. “We lost our point guard, Curtis Daniels, just five games into the year and B.J. Anderson has had to step up and run a position that he has never played before. Everyone on this team is important. Come January and February, we are going to be looking for big minutes off the bench from guys like Roosevelt Weaver, Undre Johnson and Luis Reyes. Every player on this team has a role that is extremely important to the overall success of this team.”