E.A. Sports Today

Wildcats wake up

Saks rallies from nearly being shut out in first quarter to reach Northeast Regional finals

Saks’ Tray Huguley (5) keeps his focus on the rim as he drives past Westminster’s Eshon Brown.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Saks coach Jonathan Miller was really starting to wonder there in the first quarter if his team was going to score in the game.

But in the end, not only did it score it scored enough to win.

The Wildcats overcame nearly being shutout in the first quarter to dump Westminster Christian 45-38 to reach the Class 4A Northeast Regional finals.

The Wildcats (20-8) now play second-ranked Madison Academy (23-6) Thursday at 10:45 a.m. for the trip to the Final Four in Birmingham.

Saks didn’t score in the game until the final four-tenths of a second in the first quarter. It trailed 9-3 at the end of the quarter and 19-10 at halftime, but came alive after the break and outscored Westminster 35-19 in the second half.

“We knew coming in points would be at a premium,” Miller said. “They’re a great defensive team. If you hold Madison Academy to, I think, 41 the other night you’re doing something right. It just took a while to get into the flow of the game and once we got a few shots to go down, then I think our kids settled down.

“I was worried about us taking quick shots and we did at times. I told our kids before the game to not get frustrated. They’re going to play great defense and we cant get into a situation where we come down and take the first bad shot we can find. I think we did early in the first quarter and we kind of settled down a little bit and after halftime played a whole lot better on offense.”

While Saks struggled to score early, it was Westminster that couldn’t score in the fourth quarter despite getting some good looks. The Wildcats held it scoreless until midway through the quarter, by which time they had taken a 32-28 lead.

“It all came down to defense,” Alfonza Ward said.

Westminster got it to 32-21 with just under three minutes to play, then Ward and LaDerrick Bell scored to take the lead back up to 37-34. Westminster got it to 40-38 with 34.4 seconds to play, but Saks scored the last five points from the free throw line to seal it.

“We weren’t good enough today,” Westminster coach Ronnie Stapler said. “I thought our guys played really hard, did a really good job defensively, but we couldn’t get the stop when we needed to. That aspect of the game wasn’t good enough, bottom line.”

Saks 45, Westminster Christian 38
Auston Leslie 2-8 0-0 6, Eshon Brown 3-9 0-2 6, Michael Crutcher 1-8 0-0 2, Grant Mullins 2-7 0-0 6, Michael Parker 4-7 0-0 8, Alex Stanley 0-0 0-0 0, M.J. Gurley 1-3 5-6 7, Ramann Nallamala 1-1 0-0 3, Carter Hayes 0-0 0-0 0, Matthew Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Charlie Cox 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Childers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-43 5-8 38.

SAKS (20-8) – Darien Briskey 1-6 6-7 8, DeVaunghn Beason 2-11 5-6 9, LaDerrick Bell 1-5 0-0 3, Alfonza Ward 6-7 1-2 15, Tray Huguley 4-10 0-0 8, Jamal Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Jaylen Young 0-0 0-0 0, Jalen Borders 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 15-43 12-15 45.

Westminster 9 10 9 10 — 38
Saks 3 7 16 19 — 45

3-point goals: Westminster 5-17 (Leslie 2-4, Brown 0-2, Crutcher 0-2, Mullins 2-6, Gurley 0-2, Nallamala 1-1); Saks 3-12 (Beason 0-3, Bell 1-5, Ward 2-2, Huguley 0-1, Stone 0-1). Rebounds: Westminster 34 (Parker 15); Saks 26 (Ward 7, Briskey 6). Fouled out: Leslie. Total fouls: Westminster 15, Saks 11. Officials: Alan Cosby, Jason Tidwell, Wesley Brackett.

Westminster’s Eshon Brown (2) tries to go through two Saks defenders in their regional semifinal game Monday.

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