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Wildcats scream into finals

Double or nothing

POSTED: February 19, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Apalachee’s Wright Patterson guards a Loganville player during Monday night’s victory. Patterson had 10 points in a rare offensive showing against the Red Devils.

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The team of destiny has done it again, putting away a pair of contenders Monday and Tuesday to earn their spot in the Region 8-AAAAA finals while also crossing a couple of individual milestones along the way.

Apalachee’s Wildcats started the week off right by defeating host Loganville 70-57 before turning around and holding off upset-minded Salem in a 64-57 defensive thriller Tuesday night.

The Wildcats started Monday’s contest with a 6-0 run built by threes, as per the usual, before Loganville fought back on their own 5-0 run to get within one in the first three minutes of the game.

Apalachee’s coaches often speak of Wright Patterson’s role as the "quiet" member of the team who is effective at his role, despite rarely scoring points. Monday night, though, Patterson surprised everyone by scoring six of Apalachee’s first nine points on a pair of threes, including one that broke up Loganville’s mid-quarter run. The other long-range shot came from Kamar Baldwin, Apalachee’s leading scorer who finished with 22 points, just 55 seconds into the game.

Of Apalachee’s 22 first quarter points, 15 came from shots beyond the arc.

Momentum took a little swing in the early second quarter, though, as Loganville took advantage of Apalachee’s three minute scoring drought to gain an 8-0 run to tighten the score to 22-19.

The Cats would end the second on an 8-2 run in the final 1:35 to hold a 34-26 lead into the half, but Apalachee would take a sizeable drought in the third quarter as well.

Baldwin started the third quarter with a quick layup for Apalachee just 21 seconds in, but no other Wildcat would score for the next 2:30. In that time, the Red Devils would once again pick up an 8-0 run to make the score 36-34 in Apalachee’s favor.

Kent Knowles and Joey German came up in a big way, though, as they broke the drought with a pair of threes that extended the Wildcat lead and seemed to put away the pesky Loganville team for good. Knowles added another three shortly thereafter, as well.

Baldwin would not shoot the ball for more than six and a half minutes in the third quarter after his opening basket, but he showed up in a landmark final minute to add eight points in 60 seconds. He started his personal run as the clock hit the final minute with a basket, then he added a three with 37 seconds to go.

Finally, as Loganville drove to take the final shot of the quarter, Baldwin stole the ball away and dropped in a layup as the buzzer sounded.

That moment was what the Apalachee bench had been waiting for, but Baldwin had no idea what had just happened other than he scored.

With that final shot, Baldwin hit the 1,000 career points mark as a sophomore. Baldwin became the fourth Wildcat to break that mark, and the others were much farther along in their careers when they broke it. Apalachee’s leading scorer, Tyler Watley, finished with 1,685 points.

"I was going to call a timeout in the middle of a quarter if it happened," Apalachee varsity men’s basketball coach Kevin Morris confessed.

Morris wanted Baldwin to receive the due he deserved for the milestone moment, and it came at just the right time.

"I had no idea," Baldwin admitted after the game. "It was special because my teammates helped me get there. It was a team effort."

Just 12 seconds later, Baldwin scored 1,002.

The fourth quarter belonged to Alantae Billings, though, as he controlled the lane underneath the rim for Apalachee. Billings finished with 13 points, nine of which came in the final quarter on layups under the basket or free throws after getting fouled on shots under the basket.

Billings ended the Loganville game 7-for-8 from behind the line, shooting 5-of-6 in the final eight minutes.

Knowles finished Monday night with 12 points while German netted 10.

Loganville fought back all night long, but they were unable to ever capture a lead after Apalachee got ahead 6-0 in the first until the final whistle. The Red Devils’ leading scorer, Marquis Leslie, matched Baldwin’s 22 points, and three Loganville athletes had 10.

While Loganville never took a lead against Apalachee, the Salem Seminoles made sure to get their neck out in front early and often. Just a short 24 hours off of upsetting second ranked Heritage, the seven seed Seminoles hoped to repeat history against the favored Wildcats, and they nearly did.

"What you have to do is work a little extra hard, you’ve got to make a few extra passes to get that shot," Morris noted about Salem’s vaunted defense. "You’ve got to do things a little different. You’ve got to get the ball in the paint, and you’ve got to make some extra passes."

Part of Apalachee’s problem Tuesday night was that they shot the ball uncharacteristically poorly.

"That’s what we did early. We settled for a good shot instead of making the extra pass and getting that great shot," Morris explained. "That hurt us a little early, but I felt like we did a better job later on."

In the first six shots for Apalachee, they only made one basket, German’s game-opening three. In the same six shots and the same three minutes, Salem made three baskets to go up 6-3.

Salem ended the first quarter with a 15-10 lead despite German’s six points from threes in the opening eight minutes. In fact, Apalachee would not lead until a rare Billings three-pointer three minutes into the second gave the Wildcats an 18-17 lead after temporarily tying the game 15-15 moments earlier.

The two teams would trade leads until Apalachee went up 26-25 with 25 seconds to go in the half as Billings took a half-court length pass under the basket and put it in for the quick score in response to a Salem lead-change just fifteen seconds prior.

The ‘Noles attempted to score one last shot with five seconds on the clock, but it bounced wayward. A Salem player nabbed the rebound and attempted the put-back with no time to spare, but Baldwin smacked the ball against the glass for a crucial block. Salem’s bench argued goal tending to no avail and the Wildcats held a pivotal lead at the half.

Salem would reclaim the lead just 18 seconds into the half with a quick layup from Demyon Greenwood, one of three men to lead the Seminoles with 12 points, and they would hold it for much of the third quarter.

Kristopher Bridgeman, one of the other ‘Noles with 12 points, put his team up by six with 3:45 remaining in the quarter on what could have been a demoralizing three, but the Cats surged back and little more than two minutes later held a 41-39 lead after a 10-3 run.

Knowles started the rally for Apalachee with a responsive shot of his own from beyond the arc just before Patterson adds a second three to tie the game at 39-39. A put-back by Billings off of a missed three gives the Wildcats what would prove to be a final lead before Baldwin’s commanding dunk over two Seminoles extended the lead to 43-39.

Over that same span, Apalachee’s defense picked up in much-needed capacity and drew charges to waste Salem possessions. At the end of the night, the Wildcats had forced the ‘Noles into five offensive fouls.

"Not only is [taking the charge] important in our scheme of things, that’s one thing that they do well. They penetrate well," Morris said of Salem. "When you start looking for who’s there to take the charge, you’re not looking for who’s open. It does several things. It takes some possessions away from them, but it also takes away a few options away.

"Instead of thinking, ‘I’m going to the hole,’ you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to go to the hole and hope there’s nobody there to take a charge,’" Morris noted. "That’s always been our philosophy behind it. We’re a team that takes a lot of charges, and we really do pride ourselves on that."

Salem would add two points before the end of the quarter, but they would never get closer than that.

Just as Billings took over in the fourth quarter against Loganville, Baldwin made sure to put the game away for his team against Salem, scoring half of his 22 points in the final quarter.

He played more than offense, though, in the final eight minutes. With the score still a two-point deficit for the Seminoles, Baldwin blocked a shot from Robert Baker that would have tied the game with slightly more than two minutes to play while Salem enjoyed a 5-0 run.

With more than a minute and a half to play and the game quickly getting away from them, the Seminoles started fouling. Unfortunately for them, they started fouling one of the best free-throw shooters in the region.

Baldwin was 9-of-12 from behind the line in the final quarter, eight of which were in the final two minutes.

A final technical foul by Salem at 11.3 gave Baldwin the shots and the ball as he would go 1-of-2 and put the game away.

On the other side, Salem was 1-of-10 from behind the line Tuesday night, managing to miss 7-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter.

Salem may have done Apalachee a favor Monday night by disqualifying the Heritage Patriots, as the Wildcats were 2-0 against the Seminoles during the season and 0-2 against Heritage.

"I was kind of disappointed," Baldwin answered when asked if he wanted a third shot at beating Heritage. "I wanted to beat them."

"I could care less," Morris disagreed. "We’re playing in the game we wanted to play in. We’re playing for a region championship. I didn’t care who we had to beat to get here."

Apalachee advances to play Clarke Central in the region championship tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Loganville High School after the Gladiators defeated Gainesville Tuesday night’s final match-up.

The Gladiators gave Apalachee fits during the regular season, sweeping the Cats in wins of 13 and 23 points.

When asked if his team had learned anything to better prepare against Clarke, Morris had little to say.

"I hope so," Morris laughed before providing a more serious answer. "We’ve got to do a better job of handling their pressure. Then, it’s tough. It’s tough to get open shots, even when you do break their pressure, it’s tough to get open shots."

Morris went on to say that playing a defense like Salem’s offered his team good practice for what they will need to do against Clarke.

"We’ve got to make some extra passes. Let them over-pursue…then we’ll hit some open shots behind them," Morris added. "They’re both very active teams. They’re both very aggressive, and I think that’ll be a good thing for us.

"I’m proud of them," Morris concluded. "Our kids go in there and they work and they fight for position and they hold their ground and they use their strength and they rebound the basketball. I told them before the game that if we do two things, take care of the basketball and don’t give them second chances, we’ll win the game.

"And we did that. I told them they should take confidence in the fact that we didn’t shoot well and we still won the game, and that’s why. We took care of the basketball and we didn’t give them second chances."

Baldwin ended Tuesday night with 14 rebounds, where Billings added seven rebounds and Knowles had seven assists and five rebounds.

"That’s what I’m proud of," Morris beamed.

 

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