NOTE TO READERS: This story has been updated from an earlier version. A paragraph was removed that pertained to players’ school attendance.
Franklin County High School basketball coach Ray Bailey is usually pretty composed on the sideline.
You won’t see him yelling at players, tossing chairs or pitching a fit. Perhaps a cold stare now and then.
But in the aftermath of last week’s triple overtime loss at home to the district-leading Blountstown Tigers, he’s speaking out.
Loud and clear and in no uncertain terms.
“I applaud them for the comeback. but as far as going into three overtimes, I was disappointed, I was upset,” he said Sunday night, as his team prepared to wrap up the regular season this week. “I got some uncoachable, entitled kids who won’t listen.”
After digging themselves a double-digit hole in the first half, a nearly 20-point deficit at one point, the Seahawks fought back to tie the game in regulation, and then battled through three overtimes before ultimately falling 73-70 to their district rivals.
Bailey thinks it never should have gotten to that point, especially since as a team the Seahawks shot a lackluster 14 of 33 from the charity stripe, a 42 percent success rate that has to be twice that good if the team wants to compete down the final stretch. Only senior Jeremiah Stephens, who hit 8 of 12 free throws, and some crucial ones down the stretch, had a respectable showing.
“We’re 7 and 12 because of that (free throw shooting),” said Bailey.
Stephens and junior Jaidyn Rhodes are the only Seahawks shooting better than 60 percent from the free throw line, both at 68 percent for the season.
“We have issues with the classroom that’s carrying over to the court,” said the coach. “I have been preaching that what you’re supposed to do in the classroom and on the court and in the community is represent the school and the coaching staff.”
In another instance, Bailey said, two players left school at the end of the day, and ate at El Jalisco, before returning in time for an evening contest at the Nest. As a result, neither of the players started that game, although they would later see action.
“Anytime we have a game, you do not leave school when school’s out,” Bailey said. “You don’t leave school, that was your order. They know they don’t leave to get nothing.
“There’s too much stuff can go on once they leave campus,” he said.
The coach’s ire is also due to what he sees as some players opting to perform on the court in a way that differs from what he has diagrammed as his play-calling strategy.
Perhaps to make sure none of his players were spared his criticism, Bailey said that against Blountstown, with a slim lead, he had called for the Seahawks to go into a stall.
But after Poloronis missed a three-pointer, Stephens fouled a Tiger on a three-point try and that tightened up the game,
“He gets the rebound and he tries to go and be the hero, instead of dropping the ball off (to another player) for the game winner,” said Bailey. “It’s selfishness and it’s uncoachable and entitled.”
Thrilling finish against Blountstown
After trailing by 10 after the first period, and by 11 at the half, the Seahawks put together a solid third quarter, outscoring the Tigers 22-16 to narrow the Jan. 20 contest.
With three minutes left in regulation, and trailing by nine, 51-42, Stephens hit a pair of free throws to slice the lead to seven.
With 1:24 left in the fourth quarter, Poloronis drove baseline and hit a reverse lay-up to bring it to a five-point deficit, 51-46.
The Tigers got two more on a bucket, but the Seahawks got three, when sophomore Ethan Kembro hit from long range to slice the deficit to four, 53-49. For the night, Kembro nailed 6 of 16 from outside the arc, leading the team with 20 points.
“Ethan found his shot again, and he’s rebounding better,” said Bailey.
After Blountstown missed a free throw, Poloronis hit a three-pointer to shave the margin to one, 53-52. He finished the night with 17 points. “He’s not forcing stuff like he used to,” said the coach.
After the Tigers hit a free throw, Stephens, fouled outside the arc, hit two of three chances at the charity stripe, to knot the game at 54-all and send it into the first overtime.
With senior Carter Kembro handling jump ball duties to open the first overtime, the Blountstown player touched the ball twice in the center circle and the Seahawks had the ball.
Stephen’s rocket pass to Poloronis underneath for the layup put the Seahawks up two. Carter Kembro came out of nowhere on the next possession and upped the Hawk’s lead to four, 58-54.
But a Tiger trey made it a one-point game, and after Stephens sank both of his free throws, it would have been a three-point game had the ref not waved off the second free throw because Stephens stepped forward from behind the charity stripe.
Tiger sophomore Jordan Pride, fouled on a three-point try, missed all three of his chances, after Seahawk coach Ray Bailey called a timeout, Blountstown scored to knot the game at 59-all and force a second overtime.
Poloronis, fouled on a successful shot try, made the free throw, to build a 62-59 Franklin County lead.
Pride then made one of two free throws, and the Seahawks clung to a 62-60 lead.
Stephens made a pair of free throws to widen the lead to four, but the Tigers came back with a three-pointer, and later a successful free throw, to knot the game at 64.
Stephens sank one of two free throw tries to put the Seahawks out in front 65-64. After Poloronis missed both of his free throw shots, Pride, fouled with four seconds left, made the second of two to tie the game at 65 and send it into a third overtime.
In this period, the Tigers made their free throws, and the Seahawks missed theirs, and so they fell behind 71-67 with less than 40 seconds left.
Stephens nailed his two chances at the fout line, but Blountstown made one of theirs, and so it was 72-69 with the clock winding down.
Ethen Kembro sank one from the charity stripe, as did Pride, which made it 73-70 as the clock ran out.
Stephens finished with 16, Carter Kembro 11 and senior Jamal Robinson seven.
The Tigers’ record rose to 8-3, and the Seahawks’ fell to 6-12.
The following night at home, the Seahawks had an easy time of it against the winless Wewahitchka Gators, winning 84-55. The boys soccer Senior Night that was supposed to take place outside against Gadsden County had to be canceled due to the inclement weather.
Inside, the Seahawks were hot, led by Poloronis nailing 8 of 11 from the field, to lead the team with 20 points. Carter Kembro added 18, Ethan Kembro 15, Stephens 11 and senior Jamal Robinson nine. Senior Jimmy Adair and Rhodes each added four.
As a team, the Seahawks improved their free throw shooting to 15 of 23, for 65 percent. Stephens led the team with 14 rebounds, with Carter Kembro snaring 11.
As the team readies for the postseason, Bailey is stressing that after completing what he calls the third-hardest schedule in Class 1A, it’s all about playing with gusto.
“You come out flat like it don’t mean nothing,” he said, noting that against Poplar Springs and Blountstown, the Seahawks handed over the confidence they need to hold on to and use to their advantage.
He’s laid down eight cardinal rules (see sidebar) that he expects his players to follow, or risk being benched,
“I ain’t yelling, I ain’t screaming,” he said. “If you ain’t following them, you’re coming to sit by me.
“If they listen to me, then we can make it to the Final Four,” Bailey said. “If they don’t, we won’t even get out of the district.”