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Wildcats fall to Clarke in region finals

POSTED: February 22, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Ivey Wynn/Barrow County News

Wildcat Kamar Baldwin looks to pass the ball.

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Clarke Central’s Gladiators proved they were the best team in Region 8-AAAAA Wednesday night with a 64-49 win over Apalachee’s Wildcats to capture the Region Tournament Championship on a night when the Athens-based Clarke Central High School swept both the men’s and women’s title games. The Gladiators also earned the regular season title with a perfect 16-0 region record.

The Wildcats fought to keep the game close early and actually pulled ahead of the Gladiators in the opening minute with a trademark Joey German three-point basket, and then a Kent Knowles three at 6:36 tied the game 6-6 for nearly 40 seconds.

After Clarke’s Donavin Thompson stole an Apalachee inbound pass and teammate Leroy Legette went up with a traditional three-point play after a Wildcat foul, the die had pretty well been cast.

Clarke Central took a 13-0 run from the Legette and-one basket to a Jaquan Dowdy wide open layup under the basket at 1:30 after a court-length pass from Legette on a steal. Apalachee’s Kamar Baldwin added Apalachee’s only other points in the quarter with just 25 seconds on the clock to make the deficit at the half a manageable 19-8.

Region 8-AAAAA Player of the Year Cameron Johnson scored eight of Clarke’s first quarter points, including two consecutive treys during the 13-0 run that sealed the quarter in Clarke’s favor.

Johnson saved his best for the second, though, as he went off for 14 points and an incredible 100% shooting. When Johnson held the ball, it spelled trouble for Apalachee.

Not that Johnson was the sole problem for Apalachee’s defense, although he attributed for more than half of Clarke’s first half points, scoring 22 of their 40 in the first 16 minutes, as Clarke Central shot 9-of-13 from the field in the second and 17-of-26 in the first half.

Apalachee, on the other hand, shot just 3-of-11 in the first quarter. Wildcat shooting improved slightly in the second quarter, though, as the Cats hit 4-of-13 for 12 points, including Baldwin’s two free throws.

Distance shooting, while necessary for the trailing Wildcats, proved to be much of their bane Wednesday night as Apalachee was 7-of-25 from beyond the arc, just 28%.

Clarke, on the other hand, only took 13 shots from outside the perimeter, netting five for a stout 38.46%.

When Apalachee took it inside, though, they made just 10 of their 24 shots, so shot selection was not the problem. The problem was deeper.

As so often happens, Clarke’s defense interrupted Apalachee’s plan on offense very well and prevented the Wildcats from taking the looks they wanted. The Gladiators also put a heavy focus on blocking out Baldwin, who only scored 21 points. His first points came in the final minute of the first quarter, too.

Also mysteriously absent from the scoreboard for most of the night was German, Apalachee’s key perimeter threat. Clarke Central defended German so well that he was only able to come away with three points, which came on his first shot of the night.

With a 20-point deficit holding them back leaving the half, Apalachee needed to get to work quickly to catch back up to the Gladiators. Unfortunately, the region champions showed no signs of backing down.

Clarke added another 18 points to their score and held Apalachee to just 15, although the third quarter proved to be the Cats’ most successful on offense. The highlight of Apalachee’s third quarter was a traditional three-point play by Alantae Billings that put the Cats back within 20 of Clarke, the score 53-33 with just 1:33 to go, but the Gladiators of course had an answer and added five more points over that span.

The Glads scored 25 times in the first three quarters, adding a basket of one variety or another at a pace of at least one per 57.6 seconds. Their longest scoring drought through the first three periods was 1:50 between their last shot in the second quarter and their first score in the third. Clarke’s shortest gap between scores was a paltry 12 seconds.

In that same time, Apalachee managed an average pace of one score per 102.86 seconds with 14 baskets, with their longest drought coming in that difficult first quarter as the Wildcats were shut out for more than six minutes. Apalachee’s shortest scoring gap was a 22-second surge in the second quarter.

The Gladiators held a 23-point lead entering the final eight minutes of play, almost already assured to win the game and the tournament. The Wildcat defense stood and delivered though, unwilling to let the game go without a fight. Apalachee held Clarke to just six points in the final quarter while gaining 14 themselves.

Morris eventually brought in the bench players for some vital experience, though, but not until they trailed by 18 points with just a minute to go.

The opportunity paid off for one Wildcat, as Trent Green hit a three-point basket with just five seconds on the clock to make Apalachee’s final deficit of 15 points.

Clarke’s Leggett finished with 19 points while juggernaut Johnson ended with just 24 points after scoring 22 in the first half.

Apalachee finished the regular season third and improved a spot in the tournament to take the second spot in Region 8-AAAAA. The regular season second place team, Heritage, lost to Salem in the opening round of the region tournament and was summarily knocked out of contention for the state tournament.

As a result of their second place finish, the Wildcats received the opportunity to host a state playoff game last night against the M.L. King High School Lions from Lithonia.

While M.L. King entered last night’s game as the third seed to face Apalachee’s second seed, they are actually ranked higher than Wildcats according to MaxPreps.com. M.L. King ended the season ranked 34, whereas Apalachee finished as number 91 out of every basketball team in the state of Georgia, regardless of classification.

The Lions hail from Region 6, which is often regarded as the best basketball region in the state in Class AAAAA.

Results of yesterday’s game were not available as of press time.

 

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