E.A. Sports Today

Kirk for 3 — yes, yes, yes, yes & yes

Sophomore buries Westbrook with rapid-fire series of 3-pointers; Piedmont rides it into Final Four

Piedmont's Easton Kirk ties his season high with 15 points and five 3-pointers. On the bottom, tournament MVP Bayley Blanchard brings the ball up against Westbrook. (Photos by Ken Grissom)

Piedmont’s Easton Kirk ties his season high with 15 points and five 3-pointers. On the bottom, tournament MVP Bayley Blanchard brings the ball up against Westbrook. (Photos by Ken Grissom)

By Chad Barnett
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Easton Kirk says he puts up about 100 jump shots every day. Of all those shots over his lifetime, none were more important than the eight he attempted inside Pete Matthews Coliseum Thursday afternoon.

Kirk came off the bench to knock down five of them over a six and a half minute stretch in the first half for a game-high 15 points that helped earn the Piedmont Bulldogs a 70-48 blowout win over Westbrook Christian and a berth into the Class 3A Final Four.

“He lives to shoot that thing,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said as he broke out in laughter. “They (teammates) do a good job. They know when he comes in there what his specialty is. They just did a good job finding him.”

The Bulldogs (22-11) started out hot against the highly favored Warriors. They were leading 16-10 when Kirk, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, entered the game with 1:40 left in the first quarter and he promptly hit his first 3-pointer seven seconds later.

Ten seconds into the second quarter he hit his second. He knocked down another at 6:25, another at 5:43 and his last one at 3:13 that put his team up 23.

“I knew when he started pumping he might have a game in him,” said Lewis.

“I was a little tired; I think I was screaming too much,” Kirk remembered. “My teammates did a good job driving in and kicking it out to me when I was open. Not too good of a shooter off the dribble, so they have to do a lot of work to get me open.”

Kirk entered the game averaging 5.7 points a game but finished Thursday 5-for-7 from behind the arc. His 15 points were more than his total output for the team’s first four playoff games. It matched his season high, which came in the season opener, also on five 3-pointers.

It was only the sixth time all season he scored in double figures and the first since going for 12 – of course, all on 3s – against Weaver Jan. 19.

He had 47 3-pointers in the previous 32 games. His barrage Thursday was part of a 22-0 Piedmont run that spanned into the third quarter.

“Right before the half they just played really well,” said Lewis. “I don’t know if it’s because they don’t want to hear me. The more they get ahead the less I talk.”

The Bulldogs never looked back thanks to a defense that was stifling.

Westbrook entered the game known for its deadly shooting prowess. With fans on hand to witness their capabilities, the Warriors were unable to gain any momentum and their shooting suffered for it.

The only hit 32 percent from the field despite outscoring Piedmont 21-9 in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand.

While Kirk stole the headlines, he was supported by the steady play of point guard Bayley Blanchard. The tournament MVP finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Austin Brazier and Tyler Lusk each finished with 12 points. They all joined Kirk on the all-tournament team.

The Bulldogs now play South champion Excel (21-8) Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the BJCC. The winner plays for the state title Friday at 3.

“I remember growing up probably barely as big as this table watching Coach Lewis when he coached at Centre,” Blanchard said, recalling when Lewis lead Cherokee County to the Final Four in the mid-2000’s. “That’s crazy that I’m playing for him now and we’re getting this opportunity. A lot of people didn’t believe in us at the beginning of the year but we just stayed together and kept fighting.”

Piedmont 70, Westbrook Christian 48

WESTBROOK CHRISTIAN (22-8) – Kyle Edwards 2-7 0-0 5, Emil Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Jordan Kilgo 1-2 0-0 2, Chandler Richards 3-11 1-2 8, Kyle Leonard 3-12 0-0 6, William Jones 2-4 0-2 4, Gilbert Rosas 1-1 0-0 2, Wil Appleton 3-6 1-1 9, Cameron Migliore 1-7 0-0 3, John Hill Catanzaro 1-4 0-0 3, Braden Beecham 0-1 0-0 0, Boo Shirley 2-2 0-2 6. Totals 19-58 2-7 48.

PIEDMONT (22-11) — Darnell Jackson 4-8 0-0 8, Taylor Hayes 1-2 1-2 3, Tyler Lusk 4-6 2-3 12, Bayley Blanchard 6-9 1-3 14, Austin Brazier 4-9 4-6 12, Easton Kirk 5-8 0-1 15, Caradavian Myers 0-0 0-2 0, Malik Gamble 0-0 0-0 0, Neonta Alexander 1-1 0-0 2, Derrick Baer 0-1 0-0 0, CJ Savage 1-3 2-4 4, Cody Daughtry 0-0 0-0 0, Brett Akin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-47 10-21 70.

Westbrook Chr. 13 5 8 21 — 48
Piedmont 23 19 19 9 — 70

3-point goals: Westbrook 8-25 (Edwards 1-2, Richards 1-2, Leonard 0-5, Jones 0-1, Appleton 2-4, Migliore 1-6, Catanzaro 1-3, Shirley 2-2); Piedmont 8-14 (Jackson 0-1, Lusk 2-3, Blanchard 1-2, Kirk 5-7, Baer 0-1). Rebounds: Westbrook 30 (Richards 4); Piedmont 39 (Brazier 7, Lusk 6, Kirk 6). Total fouls: Westbrook 17, Piedmont 8. Fouled out: Richards. Officials: Mathison, Salter, Ellis.

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