Bulldogs grind way to state tournament

Published 11:36 pm Thursday, February 26, 2009

In many ways, “ugly” was the way to describe King’s Fork’s 39-36 victory over Hampton in the semifinals of the Eastern Region Tournament on Thursday night at Churchland High School.

The most important result of the game is beautiful for the Bulldogs though, because the win clinches King’s Fork’s second-straight trip to the Group AAA State Tournament.

After posting 101 and 80 points in the two regional tournament wins earlier this week, the Bulldogs didn’t face a stalling opponent and the Bulldogs committed a moderate number, 13, of turnovers.

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The Bulldogs simply couldn’t make shots, shooting 26.0 percent from the field (12 of 46).

King’s Fork’s leading scorer, Jaquon Parker, managed two points. Of the Bulldogs’ top four scorers, only forward Jay Copeland had his usual numbers, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“We live to see another day, that’s all that matters,” said KF head coach Joshua Worrell. For once, the common coaching quote seemed the perfect summary.

The Bulldogs broke out to a 12-2 lead. Three-pointers by Derek Wright and Jamar Wertz, along with four points inside by Copeland put the Bulldogs off on the right foot offensively.

While holding Hampton to 1 of 13 shooting in the first period, the Bulldogs couldn’t extend their lead in the last couple minutes of the quarter.

KF’s offense remained cold through the second period and the Crabbers slowly chipped at the lead. KF hung onto a 19-17 lead at halftime and the score was 19-18 at the 4:05 mark of the third period.

“I talked to them at halftime,” said Worrell. “I told them, ‘you’re guaranteed 16 more minutes to wear this uniform. That’s it. You’re not guaranteed anything beyond that.’”

A three-pointer by Wright put KF on the board in the second half and it was one of two KF field goals in the third period. Remarkably, with KF’s defensive effort remaining as strong as ever, the Bulldogs stretched their lead with an 8-5 third period to 27-22 heading to the fourth.

From a 29-25 KF lead early in the fourth period, Copeland scored six points of a 9-0 KF run. Copeland made 4 of 4 at the line in the run and was 11 of 15 at the line on the night.

Up 38-25 with 3:32 to go, the Bulldogs had seemingly taken care of business.

Hampton rallied and King’s Fork tried giving its lead away a couple times down the stretch.

Hampton’s Kevin Starkey hit his third three-pointer of the night to make it 38-31 with 1:54 left. Starkey’s shot was followed by Parker missing two free throws.

Hampton picked off a Bulldog pass in the backcourt and turned it into a lay-in by Chris Johnson, making it 38-34 with 0:57 left.

Normally, Copeland would not have been the first choice for KF to get the ball to and have go to the line in the final seconds, but it made sense now. So coming out of a timeout, Copeland got the inbounds pass and was fouled.

His first attempt was an airball short. He collected himself to make the second.

Hampton’s Ben Sawyer scored on a driving jumper and KF’s Dominique Patterson was sent to the line with 0:31 left. Patterson missed both short, leaving a one-possession game.

Johnson got an open look from the top of the key, but missed, and KF got the ball out of bounds with 0:18 left.

Hampton nearly forced the Bulldogs into a 10-second count in the backcourt, but meanwhile, time was running out and Hampton didn’t foul until getting Wertz with 0:02 left.

Now with most of the fans exiting Churchland, Wertz missed both shots. The best Hampton could scramble together was a 70-foot shot by Johnson which was way short.

“Jay did a great job making free throws throughout the game, then he shoots an airball. I don’t know,” said Worrell.

“Then Jamar’s my best free throw shooter all year, and he misses two at the end.”

Nevertheless, no matter how it happened, the Bulldogs are playing for the regional championship and have clinched a state tournament spot.

Davante Gardner had eight points and six rebounds for KF. Wright and Wertz had six points each.

KF (27-1) will play the winner of Friday night’s semifinal, Landstown vs. Booker T. Washington, on Monday at 8 p.m. at Churchland.