Two quality basketball teams faced off in the opening round of the AAAAA state tournament Saturday.
Apalachee High School hosted M.L. King and by the time the evening was over, the visiting Lions had managed to hold on for a 70-64 win. The loss ended a memorable season for the Wildcats at 23-6.
MLK took a 3-2 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter and did not relinquish it until a 3-pointer by Joey German tied the game with 3:03 left in the third. Another basket from behind the 3-point line by Wright Patterson gave the Wildcats a 41-38 advantage. AHS would lead 47-44 after the third quarter.
M.L. King (22-10) would outscore the Wildcats 26-17 in the final eight minutes to advance.
“Coming in, we knew we had to box out and not let them beat us on the offensive boards,” said AHS coach Kevin Morris. “We also needed to handle the basketball well. Overall, we did those things. Their press did hurt us in one stretch. We played well, but they are a sound team.”
Kamar Baldwin finished with 26 points for AHS while Alantae Billings scored 12 and Kent Knowles finished with 11. Patterson added eight points.
The Wildcats held their final lead at 56-55 with 5:18 left following a basket by Baldwin, who has already surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career after two seasons.
A 3-pointer by M.L. King with 4:56 gave the lead back to the Lions for good.
AHS pulled to within four points twice in the final two minutes, but would not get any closer.
While disappointed by not advancing, Morris said this year’s team has been one of his favorites to coach.
“Tonight, the whole home side of the bleachers gave them a standing ovation,” Morris said. “They really liked watching this team play. I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
Morris also credited his team’s quartet of seniors in Jody Mathis, Joey German, Petr Mitrik and Kintavious Merritt for their efforts this season.
The AHS coaches noted Mathis had one of the best games of his life Saturday night.
The Wildcats made nine 3-pointers against M.L. King and was 15-of-15 from the free throw line.
Overall, AHS played well, but M.L. was just a little better this night, Morris said. The Lions’ combination of speed, size and strength played to their advantage in some stages of the game.
Greg King led M.L. King with 25 points while Paul Jackson scored all 24 of his points in the second half.