Chiefland falls short in state semifinals


Malone guard Antwain Johnson, center, battles the ball with Chiefland center Willie Brannon, left and forward Kerry Harris, right, during the Class 1A state semifinals at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland on Wednesday. Malone defeated Chiefland, 67-59. (Photo by Yoshitaka Hamada/The Lakeland Ledger)

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 6:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 6:03 p.m.

LAKELAND — As it had done all season, Chiefland didn't let a deficit get the Indians down.

Even a big, 17-point gap against No. 1 Malone going into the fourth period Wednesday in the Class 1A boys state semifinals.

Twice Chiefland, rallying behind the play of senior Kyle Weeks and junior G'Angelo McClendon, pulled to within two points, the last with 1:12 left to play. But Chiefland didn't score again and the state's winningest small schools boys basketball program will play for another championship.

The Tigers, who have won 13 state titles and were playing in their 16th state semifinal, had four players in double figures, led by Antwain Johnson and Alonze Bailey with 18 each, to hold off the No. 4 Indians, 67-59, at The Lakeland Center.

In its first state tournament appearance, Chiefland (26-2) certainly didn't exit easily.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Indians coach Adam Boyd. “They have two really talented players (Chai Baker and Johnson), and we tried to do something we really haven't done all year.

“We played a lot of triangle and two defense and tried to take them out of their game or make them work, forcing the other guys to step up. We felt if we did that it would give us a good chance. Bailey ending with 18 ... if he was going to do that, we knew it was going to be tough to win.”

Weeks had a game-high 22 points with three 3-pointers and eight rebounds, and McClendon had 19 with four treys and four assists. Junior Kerry Harris had 10 rebounds and eight points for Chiefland.

Baker finished with 17 and Chancellor Lockett had 10 for Malone (26-4), which will play Hamilton County, a 85-48 winner over Chipley, in today's 1A state final at 12:05 p.m. Chipley, ranked No. 2, played without several players who were suspended, including standout sophomore Trent Forrest.

The Tigers, who won five straight state titles from 1994-1998, will be playing in their first state final in 16 years.

With four-year starting point guard Deshawn Roland out early in the third with four fouls, the Indians offense sputtered as Malone opened a 17-point lead (54-37), scoring the final five points of the period.

“When I first came back into the game after being in foul trouble at the beginning of the fourth, we looked at each other and said we are not out of it, we can't accept to lose,” Weeks said. “We rallied, hit a couple of shots, played hard defense and did everything we could.”

Weeks, who picked up his fourth foul late in the third, followed up a McClendon 3-pointer with one of his own, scored off a rebound for another basket, then drilled another trey to cut the Tigers' advantage to eight (57-49) with 5:48 left to play. Another 3-pointer by McClendon drained the deficit to four and Weeks turned a missed free throw by Malone into a fastbreak layup, and suddenly Chiefland was down only two, with 1:49 left.

It was 61-59 with 1:12 remaining, but a Indians' drive inside turned into a turnover that Malone converted into a basket. From that point on, Chiefland had to foul and Baker hit all four of his free throw attempts in the final 24 seconds.

For the game, the Tigers had 30 free throw attempts compared to the Indians' 17. Also, Malone scored 24 points off turnovers, compared to Chiefland's 14.

The Indians led after the first, 16-14, but were outscored 40-21 in the second and third periods combined, in building a sizable advantage.

“If we didn't have a 17-point cushion, as bad as I feel about giving up the lead, at least we created a cushion for ourselves,” said Tigers coach Steven Welch. “Maybe I mismanaged it and pulled it out too early. They have some good players. Their No. 2 (Roland), 3 (McClendon) and 10 (Weeks) can really shoot it.”

“Our first goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to Lakeland,” Weeks said. “It hurts because we knew we could win it all and wanted to. It was a great senior year. I'm glad I was able to share it with people I have played basketball with my whole life.”

Boyd, who in only his third season as coach has led Chiefland to two regional finals and a state semifinal, said his players gave it all they had in the final period.

“I told them it is good that it stings. If it didn't, it wouldn't be worth doing,” Boyd said. “We told them not to be satisfied all year. We tried to get kids to realize it is not good enough, you can take another step.

“We didn't reach our final goal, but at this point, with how hard they have played, now it is OK to be satisfied. You did everything you could. You sweated for four months, five days a week, up and down Chiefland's gym. They laid it on the line every day.”

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