E.A. Sports Today

Making it personal

Baker leads White Plains past Westminster Christian, Wildcats play Anniston a fourth time in NE Regional finals for trip to Final Four

SATURDAY’S NE REGIONAL SCORES
Boys 4A: White Plains 51, Westminster Christian 38
Boys 1A: Decatur Heritage 60, Ragland 57
Girls 1A: Decatur Heritage 71, Coosa Christian 42

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

One thing about these limited-crowd arenas: You can hear every conversation in the building, whether it’s on the bench, on the floor or in the stands.

Somebody in the White Plains side of the stands Saturday, hoping to urge their team to amp up its intensity in its biggest game of the year, implored the Wildcats on the floor to “make it personal.”

It was later confirmed the plea came from White Plains post Brody Baker’s dad. Baker said he didn’t hear it with all that was going on in front of him, but he certainly responded in a manner as if he did.

The senior was relentless early, scoring 12 points of his team’s first 16 points in an 18-3 run that gave it control of an eventual 51-38 win over Westminster Christian in the Class 4A Northeast Regional semifinals.

“It didn’t really fall on me (to be the spark); I just had to take it over,” Baker said. “Not trying to be cocky or anything but I just felt like I needed to come ready to play because the past two years, you’ve watched me, you could see I don’t show up until the fourth and I’ll be here and there. I just wanted us to come in this game and have a chance to win.”

Now the Wildcats (21-6) have a chance to go to the Final Four. The win sends them to play Anniston (27-6) — for a fourth time this year — in the Monday’s regional final at Jacksonville State that coach Chris Randall said would take a “heroic effort” to win. The matchup guarantees at least one Calhoun County team will be in the championship program in Birmingham.

It’s the Wildcats’ first appearance in the regional final since 2015. They haven’t been to the Final Four since 2008.

Ironically, the last two times they made the regionals — 2015 and 2016 — Westminster Christian was the team that put them out.

Fueled by his opening flurry, Baker finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. The plan was for him to touch the ball every possession. He didn’t necessarily have to score every time, but he did have to touch it and make a good decision once he did.

In the opening stretch, he hit two 3-pointers, made two free throws, powered through traffic in the lane for a layup and one that gave the Wildcats the lead for good, and hit a bucket to open the scoring in the second quarter.

“I took all this anger that I’ve had and put it all in there,” Baker said. “I made myself mad, basically, because I play better mad. I had something to prove – that we can compete with everyone else, that we can be up there with some good teams.”

Defense also played a key role. In a game where points were like touchdowns and every possession was important, the Wildcats held their visitors from Huntsville to four field goals in the first half — 2-of-14 after the opening 5-0 salvo — and six (on 30 shots) with five minutes left in the game.

“We got some easy looks, we just couldn’t get the ball in the bucket,” Westminster coach Ronnie Stapler said. “That’s sort of been us all year long. We’d have a bad quarter like that and dig ourselves a hole and play on our heels the rest of the game. They did a good job guarding us.”

After Westminster scored the first two baskets of the game – a 3-pointer and a bucket in transition – White Plains coach Chris Randall called his team’s defensive effort “just about perfect.”

“Ninety percent of the time they were in the perfect spot where they were supposed to be,” he said. 

He had particular praise for Garrett Wilson, who spelled several regulars in foul trouble and made Westminster leading scorer Chase McCarty work for everything he got. McCarty grabbed 12 rebounds, but scored only 13 points – eight from the free throw line.

“We would have beat a lot of folks the night we played Etowah (in the subregion game),” Randall said. “You make 14 3s and one guy makes five in the first quarter chances are you’re not losing that game. Tonight, when we didn’t shoot it as well, this was the kind of game the defensive effort can’t take a night off.

“To win a game where we scored in the 80s and then come back the next game and win a game we score in the 50s it says a lot to me about our effort defensively and how the guys have bought in and are just connected. They got nothing easy.”

“Our season’s on line, we’ve got nine seniors, so I feel like we had a little pep in our step playing defense,” guard Quin Wilson said. “We were all together, locked I on defense; that’s what it took tonight.”

It was White Plains’ 12th straight win in the Palace on the Plains and left them 21-2 in the building over the last two years. 

CLASS 4A BOYS NORTHEAST REGIONAL
White Plains 51, Westminster Christian 38
WESTMINSTER (20-7) –
Landon Taylor 1 0-0 3, Luke Negast 1 0-0 2, Carter Hammond 1 3-6 5, Grant Kaufman 1 0-0 2, Jackson Collier 0 0-0 0, Chase McCarty 2 8-9 13, Eric Robinson 1 2-4 5, Jackson Hammond 1 1-2 3, Campbell Brashler 1 2-2 5, Drayden Sullivan 0 0-0 0. 9 16-23 38.
WHITE PLAINS (21-6) – Quin Wilson 4 4-4 14, Jaden Chatman 3 3-4 10, Jacob Wheeler 1 0-0 2, Landon Senciboy 0 0-0 0, Brody Baker 6 8-9 23, Jesse Hubbard 0 0-0 0, Walaker Osteen 1 0-0 2, Garrett Wilson 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-17 51.
Westminster         8     6     5    19   –  38
White Plains       14     7     6    24   –  51
3-point goals: Westminster 4 (Taylor, McCarty, Robinson, Brashler); White Plains 6 (Q. Wilson 2, Chatman, Baker 3). Total fouls: Westminster 17, White Plains 19. Officials: Robinson, Wood, Morrison.

Class 1A Boys
Decatur Heritage 60, Ragland 57

RAGLAND – Decatur Heritage started strong and finished strong to in the Class 1A regional semifinal.

The Eagles trailed by seven entering the fourth quarter after losing a seven-point first-quarter lead but outscored Ragland 17-7 in the fourth quarter to win.

Josh Phillips scored 10 points and Jordan Turner and C.J. Lawler had eight apiece in the middle two quarters as Ragland rallied from a 21-14 deficit to take a 50-43 lead into the fourth quarter.

But the Purple Devils couldn’t keep the momentum and Decatur Heritage outscored them 17-7 in the fourth. Ragland had opportunities to tie the game after falling behind by three, but couldn’t hit a shot down the stretch.

Phillips led Ragland with 17 points. Turner had 13 and Lawler had 11.

Decatur Heritage will play Jacksonville Christian in Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. 1A regional final at Jacksonville State. The Eagles are in the regional finals for the sixth straight year. They’ve won only one of the previous five.

CLASS 1A BOYS NORTHEAST REGIONAL
Decatur Heritage 60, Ragland 57
DECATUR HERITAGE –
Bo Solley 0 0-0 0, Bryant Pitts 4 0-0 12, Alex Malone 2 0-0 5, Clay Smith 5 0-1 13, Lemzel Johnson 0 0-0 0, Sean Zerkle 5 0-0 10, Brayden Kyle 9 2-6 20. Totals 25 2-7 60.
RAGLAND – C.J. Lawler 4 0-0 11, Matt Trammell 3 3-4 9, Jordan Turner 6 0-0 13, Josh Phillips 7 3-4 17, Kentrell Turner 2 0-0 4, Owen Schall 1 0-0 3. Totals 23 6-8 57.
Decatur Heritage                21     6   16   17    –   60
Ragland                                 14   17   19     7    –   57
3-point goals: Decatur Heritage 8 (Pitts 4, Malone, Smith 3); Ragland 5 (Lawler 3, J. Turner, Schall). Total fouls: Decatur Heritage 13, Ragland 10.

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