FAIRMONT — Fairmont struggled defensively late in the game and East Bladen took advantage. But in the end, the Golden Tornadoes captured an 84-70 win in the opening round of the state’s Class 2-A East playoffs.
The loss ends the season for the Eagles with a 14-11 record.
Fairmont’s struggles were sandwiched around a heavy press that forced turnovers throughout the game. West Bladen used 3-point shooting from Alex Stephens in the first quarter to keep it close, leaving Fairmont an 18-14 lead at the first quarter.
In the second, the press started to pay off in the form of fast-break layups that sent the game from a two-point lead for Fairmont to a 16-point lead by halftime. Fairmont kept the pedal down for the third quarter and early into the fourth, getting the lead as high as 19 points with five minutes left to play.
“They panicked and they lost their poise,” said East Bladen coach Ken Cross.
Behind Jaquan Jones, Farrell Murchison and Alex Stephens, the Eagles made a final push, with Murchison hitting a 3-pointer with 1:30 left that got the score down to 78-69 Fairmont. He also made a free throw with 57 seconds to narrow it to the same margin.
Cross said the same drive has been fueling his team all year.
“Things looked bad when we were 5-7, but then we won nine of the last 12. We couldn’t give up. They told me they were tired of losing,” Cross said.
The Eagles scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, twice what Fairmont had allowed in the first three.
The Eagles kept scoring balanced, with Stephens and Murhison scoring 19 and Jones added 18.
Knights lose a classic
It may have had the feel of a state championship, rather than a first-round game. But when time expired Monday after four quarters of regulation and three overtimes, Clinton had nipped visiting West Bladen 72-69 on a matchup of Four County Conference foes.
The loss ends the Knights’ season at 14-12.
“This was probably one of the best one or two games I’ve been a part of,” said West Bladen coach Travis Pait.
Clinton opened a 15-11 margin after the first quarter of play, and a pair of three-pointers by Malcolm Vaught along with five points from Corbin Stanley kept the Knights’ deficit at just 33-26 at halftime.
Vaught’s hot hand continued in the third quarter, as he bombed in three three-pointers to help West Bladen inch closer. The Dark Horses led 44-38 going into the fourth frame.
Vaught fired in another three-pointer and Rahu Purdie buried five points to help West Bladen knot the game at 53-53 when regulation ended.
Each team scored six points in the first overtime for a 59-59 tie, then matched that in the second quarter to stay knotted at 65-65. But in the third overtime period, Clinton outscored the Knights by a 7-4 margin to escape with the win.
“The kids really fought every minute,” Pait said. “We moved the ball unbelievably well and ran our offense exceptionally well.
“The hard part of this is for the group of seniors,” he added. “But I’m very pleased with this group — they all worked very hard.”
Purdie led West Bladen with 21 points, while Vaught added 20 points behind his six three-pointers. Stefan McDonald contributed 11 points. Brandon Council pulled down 12 rebounds, while Edward Owens had eight points and seven boards.
Pait said the Knights improved by five wins and three losses over the previous season.
“We beat some good teams along the way, and were in almost every game we played,” he said.
Lady Knights ousted
A stifling defense by Wilson Beddingfield put the dampers on West Bladen’s offense early and helped lead the Lady Bruins take a 62-42 win on Monday in the Class 2-A East playoff opener.
The loss ends the season fro the Lady Knights at 13-11.
Beddingfield put the clamps on West Bladen right from the start and raced out to a 16-6 first-quarter lead. The momentum continued in the second quarter as the Lady Bruins outscored the visitors by a 19-10 margin and took a 35-16 lead into halftime.
“We got off to a slow start … their defense was overwhelming,” said West Bladen coach Pam Stephens.
The Lady Knights did compete better in the second half, staying right with Beddingfield in the third quarter. But a 49-27 margin was too much to overcome in the final 8 minutes, even though West Bladen held a 15-13 advantage in the fourth quarter.
“Beddingfield was a very quick, very athletic team,” said Stephens. “I think they’ll go far in the tournament.
“I was pleased with how hard we played, though,” she added.
“Courtney Thompson had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. She finishes her West Bladen career with 1,403 rebounds, which keeps her in the No. 4 spot of the state’s all-time career rebounds list.
Taylor Stephens scored 11 points and had four assists, while Miriam Mendoza had 10 rebounds and six points.