FREEPORT – With his team trailing Cookeville (Tenn.) by two points with just 2.1 seconds left, Crestview head coach Ken Meisner had a few encouraging words for star guard Ronnie Baylark coming out of the Bulldogs’ final timeout at Freeport’s annual holiday tournament Thursday.
“When we were getting back on the court, I took Ronnie to the side and said ‘Ronnie, you’re going to make this shot,’ ” said Meisner. “He just winked at me. That’s when I knew we had a chance.”
Taking the inbounds pass at the free throw line on the defensive side of the court, Baylark dribbled twice before launching a 55-foot heave that seemed to hang in the air forever. When it finally came down, it glanced off the backboard and through the net at the buzzer, giving the Bulldogs an improbable 63-62 win.
“I told my teammates I was going to make it, too,” said Baylark with a smile after capping a 20-point performance with the game-winner. “When I let it go, I thought it was off line a little bit. But then it banked in, and it felt awesome.”
Just like that, Freeport High’s 18th annual Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout had its first signature moment.
Cookeville, the defending tournament champion, entered the tournament at 13-1 and as the odds-on favorite to repeat as champs. And when guard Matt Case drilled a fade-away jump shot with two seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 62-60 lead, it looked like Cookeville was on its way back to the winner’s bracket for the second straight year.
But then Baylark stepped in.
“We played it defensively the way we wanted to play it,” said Cookeville head coach Kevin Bray. “We told our kids that we wanted to make them shoot from the backcourt, and that’s what happened. He just made the shot.”
Baylark’s answered prayer capped a 20-point performance in a game where Crestview trailed by as many as 13 points. Cookeville opened the game on an 18-5 run, a spurt that helped the Cavs take a 19-12 lead after one quarter.
That seven-point lead would remain steady through most of the game, as Crestview entered the final quarter trailing 46-39. The Bulldogs opened the final period on a 7-0 run, however, to climb back into the game. Baylark opened the quarter – and closed it – with a three-pointer.
In the fourth, Baylark scored 10 of his 20 points, and Case answered with eight of his game-high 27 as the two teams battled to a stand-still. Baylark hit a jumper with 30 seconds left to tie the game at 60-60, which set the stage for Case’s would-be game-winner, which in turn opened the door for the 55-foot buzzer beater.
It was Baylark’s second game-winning shot of the season, but this one was significantly longer than the three-pointer he drilled to beat Bay High two weeks ago.
“It feels like we’re in a close game every time out,” said Meisner, who watched his team improve to 4-7. “Fortunately, we were able to close this one out with a little bit of luck.”
Guard Clay Hancock added 13 points for Crestview, while forward Denzel Ware added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Now in the winner’s bracket, the Bulldogs will face Maclay today at 4 p.m. for a spot in Saturday’s semifinal round. Cookeville, meanwhile, will have to settle for the consolation bracket, which includes an 11:30 a.m. meeting today with Cleburne (Ala.).
Walton 50, Glencoe (Ala.) 42
It was a tale of two halves for the Braves.
After a sloppy first half that included just six first-quarter points on the way to a 29-16 halftime deficit, Walton turned up the defensive pressure in the second half to claim a come-from-behind 50-42 win over Glencoe (Ala.).
Walton (9-1) struggled to hit shots early against substantial pressure from Glencoe before turning the tables on the visitors in the second half.
“They did a great job on us defensively in the first half,” said Walton head coach Brad West. “We had to go to the fullcourt press in the second half, and that completely changed the game.”
Walton opened the third quarter on a 21-6 run to take control, and the Braves never looked back. Leading scorer DeShun Tucker scored 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, and Amos Williams added 10 points.
Now in the winner’s bracket, Walton will take on Jacksonville (Ala.) today at 5:30 p.m.
Jacksonville (Ala.) 71, Paxton 68
Despite facing a big, physical opponent, Paxton stayed within striking distance in a three-point loss to Jacksonville.
Dustin Geoghagen led all scorers for Paxton with 28 points and Austin Carnley added 16.
Paxton will now face Cannon County (Tenn.) today at 2:30 p.m. in the consolation bracket.