Bulldogs clamp down on Indian River

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2012

King’s Fork High School junior Akanni White dribbles down the court after a rebound in Monday’s quarterfinal Southeast District tournament game against Indian River High School. The Bulldogs won the game 59-46.

Matthew Hatfield

There were some uneasy moments throughout Monday’s Southeastern District Tournament quarterfinal matchup with sixth-seeded Indian River for the third-seeded host King’s Fork Bulldogs. Part of that came with the territory of being a successful program playing at home against an underdog they’d beaten twice before this season.

Down by two with just over six minutes to play, King’s Fork was able to rise to the occasion and finish strong. The Bulldogs (16-7) closed the battle on an 18-4 run to win by a count of 59-46 and punch their ticket to the Eastern Region Tournament for the fifth time in eight years.

Email newsletter signup

“The kids persevered in that fourth quarter, and I think they played good, solid defense there at the end,” commented King’s Fork’s Josh Worrell, who is now 134-72 in eight seasons as the school’s head basketball coach.

“We were (trailing), because they were in the double bonus at the end of the third quarter, and I was worried about that. I told my guards to just stay in front of the guys, make them have to shoot it, but we can’t let them get to the free-throw line and stop the game.”

The Bulldogs stopped giving Indian River freebies at the foul line, committing just one foul in the first 4:35 of the fourth period.

King’s Fork took the lead with 6:10 to play on Rod Parrett’s third three-pointer of the contest. That was followed by a crowd-pleasing reverse layup from Byron Taylor and a pair of three-point plays from seniors C.J. Hailes and Zach Johnson as the Bulldogs scored nine unanswered points to send the visiting Braves backpedaling.

Indian River went cold at the wrong time, shooting 2-for-13 in the final quarter, while King’s Fork was able to score inside, outside and get to the free-throw line, where they made 14 of 20 attempts.

Johnson, a 6-foot-5 forward who will play college basketball for Army, scored half of his 14 points in the game’s final quarter to go with 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and three steals.

“He’s a great weapon for us, but he understands we can’t score without the guards giving him the basketball,” noted Worrell. “He works hard, and we’re very fortunate to have a kid like him.”

Johnson didn’t want it to be the last game of his King’s Fork career, and he had his way with the Braves in the low post, finishing an efficient 6-for-11 from the field. He remembered the empty feeling from last year when city rival and No. 7-seed Lakeland stunned the Bulldogs and kept them from advancing to the regional playoffs.

“Preparation gets us ready for championships,” he said. “We had a quote before the game and basically the message was that we had to fight for everything, just keep going and keep pushing when times get tough. Last year we had a bad feeling when we lost to Lakeland, so it was good to win tonight. Our expectations are to keep winning all the way through, and hopefully we can play nine more games.”

Even though King’s Fork has secured a berth in the regional playoffs starting Feb. 20, there’s still a lot to play for, starting on Thursday night when the Bulldogs welcome No. 2 seed and Suffolk foe Nansemond River. The two rivals split a pair of regular season meetings, and the winner advances to Friday night’s Southeastern District Tournament Championship against either Great Bridge or Western Branch.

“The motive is we can still put a banner up on the wall. That’s something we’re striving to do,” remarked Worrell, who reminded his players they took this same path when they reached the state playoffs for the first time in 2008.

“As I told them, when we started this run of state tournaments and whatnot, we were the No. 3 seed. We knocked off Hickory the first round, knocked off the second seed, knocked off the first seed and that’s something we have the opportunity to be able to do again. If we continue to play good, solid defense and limit our mental errors, I think we can be successful.”