E.A. Sports Today

Playing David

White Plains’ Rosario plays big in area elimination game, helps Wildcats gain another shot at Goliath Jacksonville; Golden Eagles reel off 40-point quarter en route to victory

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Chris Randall characterizes White Plains’ looming battle with defending Class 4A champion Jacksonville in Saturday’s Area 10 final as David vs. Goliath.

At the very least, the Wildcats proved they have someone to play the part of David on Thursday.

On a night when Luke Bussey and Josh Wheeler couldn’t muster offense in the usual abundance, 5-foot-6 guard Z.J. Rosario scored 17 points to slingshot No. 3 seed White Plains past No. 2 Cherokee County 49-46 in the area semifinals.

Rosario also did his part to limit Cherokee County guard Jackson Amos to 15 points, including two second-half field goals.

White Plains will play Jacksonville in Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship. The winner will play host to the Handley-Anniston loser in sub-regional play, and the loser will play the Handley-Anniston winner on the road.

“We’re not even there if Z.J. doesn’t carry us offensively in the first half,” Randall said.

With Bussey scoreless and Wheeler limited to a combined one field goal in the first half, Rosario scored 10 points to help keep the Wildcats within 25-23 at halftime.

“He had 10 in the first half, or we were in the ditch,” Randall said. “Luke couldn’t make a shot, and Z.J. was fearless.”

Randall said Rosario’s “confidence borders on cockiness,” which Randall likes. With Randall’s understood blessing, Rosario even called his own number a couple of times.

Rosario got to the rim and scored against bigger opposition.

“I knew that the guy guarding me couldn’t jump with me,” Rosario said. “I knew if I could get past him, I could get in the air and make a play.”

The giant killer also did his part to limit Amos. Cherokee County’s top offensive option hit four 3-pointers, but one in the second half.

“I tried to make sure he didn’t get touches,” Rosario said.

Bussey got all five of his points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer to start the quarter and five White Plains its first lead, 26-25.

It was the first of seven lead changes in the second half.

White Plains took the lead for good on back-to-back buckets from center Carter Johnson. He put back his own miss to make it 44-42 then scored on a Bussey drive and feed to make it 46-42.

Two Rosario free throws made it 48-44 with 36.1 seconds left, and Wheeler made one of two at 4.6 seconds to provide the final margin.

Amos was Cherokee County’s lone double-figure scorer.

With Randall repeatedly calling for “no layups,” White Plains held the Warriors to four second-half field goals, three of them 3-pointers. That includes just one fourth-quarter field goal — a Cade Hopper three to put the Warriors up 41-39 early in the quarter.

Wheeler and drew charging fouls, and Johnson finished with seven blocks.

“They played four guards, and the post guy is really quick,” Randall said. “Late in the game, the court kind of shrinks, so that allowed Carter to get more minutes down the stretch.

“We weren’t worried about him fouling. Just block everything and no layups in the fourth quarter. If we’re beat on a layup, we’re going to foul and make them make free throws.”

Cherokee County finished 12-13 in a season that started late because of the Warriors’ run to the Class 4A title game in football. All but three basketball players also play football.

Thursday’s game marked the final high school game for seven Cherokee County seniors: Amos, Landon Caldwell, Niam Dobbins, Hopper, Malachi Horton, Jackson Neyman and Jaden Wilson.

“I feel like they got better at the game of basketball and had some really great memories all year, too many to county,” Cherokee County coach Caleb Hays said. “There were also a lot of heartbreaks, two- and three-point games like this one.

“It’s hard to find the words, because there are seven of those guys I don’t ever get to coach again. Right now, I’m just kind of mixed up in some emotions. I’ve had them since they were seventh-graders.”

As for White Plains, the Wildcats improved to 9-2 since their holiday trip to play in Florida. They get at least two more games, starting with area host Jacksonville on Saturday.

“I told the guys, Vegas had David at a 38-and-a-half-point underdog against Goliath,” Randall said. “We’re kind of in the same boat.”

WHITE PLAINS – Dylan Barksdale 2 0-0 4, Paul Laube 1 0-0 2, .Z.J. Rosario 7 2-4 17, Josh Wheeler 4 3-4 11, Cam Almon 1 0-0 2, Luke Bussey 2 0-0 5, Carter Johnson 3 2-3 8. Totals 20 7-11 49.

CHEROKEE COUNTY – Jackson Amos 5 1-2 15, Malachi Horton 2 4-8 9, Cade Hopper 1 2-2 5, Jaden Wilson 3 1-5 7, Landon Caldwell 2 2-4 8, Jackson Neyman 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 10-21 46.

White Plains 10 131610 – 49
Cherokee County178138 – 46

3-point goals: White Plains 2 (Rosario, Bussey), Cherokee County 8 (Amos 4, Caldwell 2, Horton, Hopper). Total fouls: White Plains 16, Cherokee County 17. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Officials: Lee, Wilson, Gifford.

Third-quarter eruption

JACKSONVILLE 98, CLEBURNE COUNTY 32: Getting back to the Final Four means playing to a standard, and Jacksonville came into the second half feeling short of standard Thursday.

A 40-point third quarter fixed it for the Golden Eagles.

Led by John Broom’s 25 points and 20 from Devin Barksdale, Jacksonville turned a 41-20 halftime lead into an 81-26 lead going into the fourth quarter and cruised.

Jacksonville will play White Plains in Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship. The winner will play host to either Handley or Anniston in sub-regional play, and the loser will play the Handley-Anniston winner on the road.

As for Jacksonville’s big third quarter, it came after a spirited halftime. The message?

“Play harder,” Jacksonville coach Tres Buzan said. “That’s not us. That’s not the standard we want to play to.”

The Golden Eagles forced a untold chunk of Cleburne County’s 34 total turnovers over the next eight minutes of basketball. They scored their first 21 of the 40 points by the 4:49 mark.

“We just thought we came out flat,” said Broom, who scored 15 third-quarter points. “We had to come back. We just pressed better and hit more shots.”

The shock and awe of the defending Class 4A champion bringing its best in a burst hit different on Cleburne County’s sideline.

“They didn’t like their intensity at half,” Tigers coach Josh Perry said. “They took it to another level, and we didn’t really match it. 

“It’s hard with all of the length and athletic ability they’ve got. They turned up the defensive pressure, and we didn’t handle it.”

Seniors Dawson Haynes, Rico Huguley and Jackson Miller played their final high school game for Cleburne County.

“I thought we had a good year,” Perry said. “We didn’t get all of the wins we wanted, but we had a lot of growth and a great group of kids. They were very coachable with everything I asked. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”

CLEBURNE COUNTY –  Jacob Cavender 4 0-0 10, Dawson Hayes 2 3-4 7, Jake Littleton 2 0-0 6, Greyson Freeman 2 0-0 5, Nathan Adams 1 0-0 2, Rico Huguley 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 5-10 32.

JACKSONVILLE – John Broom 9 3-6 25, Devin Barksdale 8 0-0 20, Caden Johnson 4 5-5 13, Cam Johnson 5 0-0 12, Dee Prothro 3 2-3 8, Damonte Sinclair 3 0-1 6, Imoree Young 2 0-1 6, Kydric Fisher 1 1-2 4, Ethan Duke 0 2-2 2, Jaquan Ervin 1 0-0 2. Totals 36 13-20 98.

Cleburne County 13 766 – 32
Jacksonville24174017 – 98

3-point goals: Cleburne County 5 (Cavender 2, Littleton 2, Freeman 1), Jacksonville 13 (Broom 4, Barksdale 4, Cam Johnson 2, Young 2, Fisher 1). Total fouls: Cleburne County 15, Jacksonville 12. Fouled out: Freeman. Technical fouls: Freeman, Young. Officials: Lee, Wilson, Gifford.

Cover photo: White Plains players celebrate after beating Cherokee County 49-46 in Thursday’s Class 4A, Area 10 tournament semifinals at Jacksonville.

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