It will be a case of feline vs. bird at Franklin County High School Thursday night, when the Altha Wildcats enter the Nest to take on the Seahawks in the semifinals of the Region 2 tournament.
The Seahawks, with a tougher schedule but a worse 13-14 record than their opponent’s 21-7, earned the right to host the regional opener by virtue of a 46-29 victory over the Blountstown Tigers in Bristol Friday night.
Altha comes into the fracas as the runner-up in the region’s district 3., after having lost 69-60 to Malone.
Winner of Thursday’s contest would face the winner of the Malone Tigers vs. Bozeman Bucks contest, also that night.
In securing the Class 1A District 4 title, Ray Bailey’s squad avenged two regular season losses to Blountstown.
During the regular season, the Seahawks were bested twice by the Tigers – 62-56 on Dec. 16 in Blountstown, and 73-70 in triple overtime at the Nest Jan. 20.
This time the team was ready, and managed a 17-point win in the low scoring contest.
The Seahawks earned their way into the district championship game by defeating Liberty County 83-64 on Wednesday, while Blountstown had bested Port St. Joe 52-35.
“We had struggled with them at home so I was a little bit worried going in, we’ve been up and down,” said Bailey. “We had gone into the last two minutes as a two-possession game.
“After the game I was very pleased with the first half, not so much the second,” he said. “We let our foot off the gas.”
Junior Owen Poloronis led all scorers against the Bulldogs with 24 points, hitting 6 of 11 from the field for 55 percent.
Senior Carter Kembro shot at roughly the same clip, scoring 18, while senior Jeremiah Stephens and junior Jaidyn Rhodes added 15 and 11 respectively. Sophomore Ethan Kembro added six, Ta’shawn Jones 4 and senior Jamal Robinson two.
The Seahawks attempted only seven three-point shots on the night, staying patient with their shot selection.
Franklin County shot an impressive 57 percent from the field, but more importantly in this lopsided contest was the fact the team hit a respectable 76 percent from the free throw line, hitting 37 of 49 shots from the charity stripe.
Poloronis led by hitting 12, and Carter Kembro 10, of their 14 individual free throw tries, while Stephens sank 8 of 11 and Rhodes 5 of 6.
Jones and Ethan Kembro led in rebounding, with nine and seven, respectively.
“This was the first time the energy and effort and intensity was there,” said Bailey. “The game meant something to us. It was the first time we played a complete game from start to finish.
“The most important thing I was impressed with was our patience,” he said. “They fought hard and brought home the district title.”
The team had met one of Bailey’s rules, to commit a dozen or fewer turnovers, and showed they could nail at least three out of every free throws.
“We were great from the three-point line,” he said, noting that the Seahawks had thwarted the Tigers’ packed defense. “They want you to take all those outside shots. We weren’t rushing shots, we just stayed patient and stayed the course.
“If we come out and play against Altha like we did against Blountstown, it will be a battle but eventually we’ll pull away,” Bailey said.
After giving the team the weekend off to savor the district title, Bailey had the Seahawks back in the gym Monday and he’s stressing confidence that the team outperform the victory they secured against Altha in their only regular season meeting, on Jan. 6 when they downed the Wildcats in Altha 67-61.
Tay’Shawn Jones didn’t play that game, and Stephens wasn’t up to par, plus it was during a three-game week that ended with the game against Port. St. Joe.
“I think they’re going to try to zone us, but there’s nothing they can throw at us. We’ve seen every defense possible,” he said. We’ll be ready for whatever they do. If they run a man-to-man, that’s fine with me.”
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