Bulldogs clinch title
Down 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter with no vestige of momentum left on Friday night, King’s Fork’s 2013 graduating class of basketball players appeared doomed to become the first in school history never to win a major title. Then, Western Branch senior C.J. Thomas kicked off the final period with his sixth three-pointer of the game to extend the visitors’ lead to 56-40.
But what the Bulldogs and their seniors did in the remaining seven minutes of the game ensured that future teams would have to live up to their example. When the clock hit zero, the scoreboard read 65-62 and the King’s Fork Bulldogs were the 2013 Southeastern District tournament champions.
“It’s a thing that they’ve been wanting to do all year,” Bulldogs head coach Josh Worrell said of his team. “What I wrote on the clipboard going into the fourth quarter had nothing to do with X’s and O’s. I said, ‘If we get stops, we will win. But continue to believe in each other.’”
In the third quarter, Western Branch appeared to be running away with the game, and their contingent of fans, the Bruin Crazies, made it seem like the Bruins were the home team and the higher seed. To get to the final, their team had knocked off Great Bridge, which had been 19-0 in the district this season.
King’s Fork closed to 35-33 early in the third when Western Branch took off on a 13-0 run that featured three baskets from beyond the arc by Thomas, who led all scorers for the game with 24 points.
The Bulldogs had been outscored for the second straight quarter. At any point this season when they lost two quarters, they always lost the game, something Coach Worrell habitually pointed out to them. He took a different approach on Friday, calmly enduring the onslaught by the Bruins.
“I was just calm because everything (the Bruins) were wanting to do was clicking,” Worrell said. “Every shot they were shooting was going in. I’m like, ‘Guys, we’re taking their best punch. It’s going to happen.’”
But in the last seven years, Western Branch has never beaten the Bulldogs.
“Don’t give up, just keep playing defense,” KF senior guard Rod Parrett said, describing his thoughts around this point in the game.
After Thomas’ trey made it 56-40, Smith hit one of his own with 6:37 remaining. Bulldogs senior small forward Byron “Dre” Taylor later scored and senior guard Akanni White hit two baskets in a row to make it 58-49.
As King’s Fork sensed the game was winding down with less than three minutes and the Bruins still ahead 60-51, the Bulldogs’ defense reached an
unprecedented level of ferocity. Thomas had the ball around midcourt when White and Taylor closed in.
“I just knew we had to trap,” White said. “(Thomas) went to the corner, the trail spot. And I saw Dre, and I’ve been playing with Dre for so long, I knew what was in his head, so I went up. Dre actually hit the ball and it went under C.J.’s legs and I grabbed it and I just looked up and they were up there up the floor, so I passed it and I already knew (Jacorey) was going to make it.”
It was a three-pointer, and the score was 60-54 with 2:37 left. Then, the Bulldog defense held up and freshman Deshaun Wethington converted a three-point play on the other end, creating a three-point game.
Western Branch free throws made it 62-57 with 1:45 to go, then senior guard Rod Parrett drained a three-pointer. The home crowd roared and got even louder when, on the next possession, the Bruins threw the ball away. They got it back, and then turned it over again.
Parrett was fouled with 1:06 to go and hit the first free throw to make it 62-61. He missed the second and a mad scramble for the rebound ensued. Taylor deflected the ball and Parrett marched up the lane, caught it and put in the go-ahead basket. He led his team with 22 points and had seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“He’s one of my favorite players ever,” Worrell said of Parrett. “He gives me everything I ask him to do, no matter what I ask him to do, and it’s going to be a great opportunity to hopefully coach him seven more games.”
The Bruins fired and missed, then turned the ball over again. Taylor was fouled and hit a pair of free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining. Western Branch tried two more three-pointers that fell short, and the Bulldogs had secured a fresh banner for the gymnasium wall.
“It’s amazing what happens when you continue to believe in each other,” Worrell said.
The five seniors who have played with each other for years reflected exuberantly on the win.
“This means the world because we haven’t ever put a banner on the wall in three years, so it’s just overwhelming just to do with all five of us, the ones we grew up with,” Donté Ralph said.
“We just played an incredible game in the fourth quarter,” Byron Taylor said. “If we would have started off like that, shoot, I don’t know what to say. I’m so excited.”
“It was a good game,” Rod Parrett said. “It started on defense, though. As long as we play defense and have fun, nobody can beat us.”
“The last Southeastern District tournament and we won it, we won the last game of my senior year on our home floor and we’re happy,” Jacorey Smith said. “And us five grew up together and we did it, we stood together, came through and won the championship, put the banner on the wall, like I said.”
“Everybody thought it was going to be Great Bridge and Western Branch,” Akanni White said. “Even though we made it here, they still picked Western Branch. We just proved what we are. We’re the best in the district. We just proved it.”
King’s Fork begins play in the Eastern Region tournament Monday against Green Run at Western Branch High School.