Lakeland, FL---The Malone Tigers are advancing to the 1A state championship game Thursday, thanks to a 67-59 win over Chiefland Wednesday in their 1A state semifinal at the Lakeland Center.
The Tigers started out a bit sluggisly, trailing 16-14 after the first period. They rallied big time in the second quarter, taking a 36-30 lead into the half. They continued to rally in the third, outscoring the Indians 18-7, and
carried a 17 point lead in the 4th.
In the final quarter, the Indians rallied, partly due to the fact that Chai Baker and Antwain Johnson both were in foul trouble with four fouls each.
In fact Chiefland cut the Malone lead to two points, only to see Johnson hit two free throws near the one minute mark, and another key field goal with 59 seconds, to stretch the lead back to 6.
The Tigers held on from there to win 67-59. Johnson and Alonze Bailey leading the way with 18 each, Baker added 17.
After the game I spoke with coach Welch who told me he was proud of the way his guys hung on at the end.
"The second and third quarters we played much better," Welch says "our defense picked up, you know we established a 17 point lead. But then in the 4th quarter, Chai picked up his 4th foul and Antwain picked up his 4th, and it just kind of changed the dynamic of the game. And Chiefland, to their credit, did a great job of making some shots, and making some plays late. And you know it got very interesting, they cut it to two, but I give my guys a lot of credit. They found the way to dig out of a whole and get it done."
The coach went on to say he's going to give his players a quick walk through to prepare for the championship opponent, Hamilton. He calls that team "big and physical".
The Tigers are gunning for a 14th boy's state basketball championship, already their 13 titles second best in state history, behind Miami High's 18.
Hamilton beat Chipley, the Tigers playing that game without three starters, including star sophomore Trent Forrest, for violating the school's travel policies.
Coach Welch said it broke his heart to see Chipley have to play shorthanded, and applauded the job Coach Orlando and the remaining players did in a game they had to play so shorthanded.