E.A. Sports Today

Sharp at the stripe

White Plains perfect from free throw line in fourth quarter, edges Saks to earn Calhoun County semifinal berth; bracket included

White Plains’ Michael McGuirk (15) goes hard to the basket between Saks’ Alfonzo Ward (4), Darien Briskey (1) and Tray Huguley. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

2017 Calhoun County BOYS bracket – BOYS BRACKET
Bracket by Kurt Duryea

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Every day at the end of practice the players on White Plains’ basketball team are required to make seven free throws in a row before being excused for the day.

The number was a lot fewer earlier in the year, but the deeper you go into a season, the deeper the demands on a player’s concentration — and the more important free throws become.

If it takes into the night before the last player — and his rebounding partner, this is no one-man operation — can call it a night, that’s the way it’s got to be.

They do it for games like Tuesday night.

The Wildcats were 12 of 13 from the free throw line in their 50-47 Calhoun County Tournament win over Saks at Pete Mathews Coliseum. More importantly, they were clutch when it counted — 10 for 10 in the fourth quarter.

Leading scorer Michael McGuirk, who you’d figure might be one of the first to be excused in the practice exercise, was eight for eight, including two with 9.5 seconds left for the final margin.

White Plains will play top-seeded and top-ranked Sacred Heart in Friday’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal at Jacksonville State.

“What it does is that right there,” McGuirk said of the foul-shooting exercise. “The thing is those points can matter so much in a game like that because it’s so defensively played. It’s just huge.”

The Wildcats last went through the seven-shot challenge on Monday, but McGuirk took it upon himself to shoot another 50 free throws on Tuesday before the team made the ride over the mountain for the game. He made 45 of them.

“We have a very small margin for error, so one free throw, one possession, one missed box out, a layup, is a big deal,” coach Chris Randall said. “Nobody guards you at the free throw line. We’ve got to squeeze everything we can get out of every possession.”

McGuirk’s regular shot didn’t start well – he missed his first five and didn’t score until the last basket of the first quarter — but he wound up leading all scorers with 28 points.

Every possession was vital Tuesday night. When Randall got on Brett Beaver in the game for an off-putting play, Beaver bowed up and made up for it by denying Saks twice with big defensive plays on the other end.

Saks led by seven late in the third quarter, but White Plains inched its way back by scoring without the clock moving.

Many people think McGuirk is just as outside threat, supplying his points with 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers, but he voraciously attacks the basket, which in turn gets him to the free throw line. He had three-point plays on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats turned a 44-38 deficit into a 46-44 lead with 2:12 to play.

“He can shoot it, but he can score it,” Randall said. “We moved him around four or five different places and finally Macey’s (Carr) patience and Peyton Morgan getting in the lane and finding people on the perimeter, that gave Mike driving lanes. They made plays you don’t find in the box score that got Mike open. Gee whiz, you just can’t put a price tag on them.”

After McGuirk’s two free throws made it 50-47, Saks still had time for a game-tying 3-pointer, but White Plains’ defense move it farther away from the 3-point line and eventually DeVaunghn Beason took a shot with 2.5 seconds left that fell way short.

White Plains 50, Saks 47
Jaylen Jackson 1 0-0 2, Peyton Morgan 0 2-2 2, Dylan McCareeth 0 0-0 0, Michael McGuirk 9 8-8 28, Macey Carr 6 1-1 13, Gavin Burrage 0 1-2 1, Brett Beaver 2 0-0 4. Totals 18 12-13 50.

SAKS – Darien Briskey 4 2-2 11, DeVaunghn Beason 4 4-5 13, Laderrick Bell 0 0-0 0, Alfonza Ward 3 1-4 7, Tray Huguley 5 0-2 10, Jamal Stone 2 0-0 6, Jalen Borders 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 7-13 47.

White Plains 10 17 5 18 — 50
Saks 14 13 11 9 — 47

3-point goals: White Plains 2 (McGuirk 2); Saks 4 (Briskey, Beason, Stone 2). Fouled out: Beaver, Ward. Total fouls: White Plains 14, Saks 15.

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