Devils fall by three in Final Four
A last second three-point shot from halfcourt by Escambia County Blue Devil Tyrell Ford was not enough to keep his team’s fairytale season alive Thursday at the AHSAA Final 4.
Ford threw up the shot, which banked in, but still left the Blue Devils down by three as the buzzer sounded.
Escambia County led for most of the fourth quarter, but the “storybook” ending they hoped for slipped away from them with the Madison County Tigers rallying in the final two minutes to win 71-68.
“It’s not the storybook ending that we hoped for,” Earlando Courtney, head coach of Escambia County said. “I’m proud of my guys for playing their hearts out to the very end, but the ball just did not bounce our way at the end.”
Heading into the final period, the game was tied at 44 after the Blue Devils dominated the third period.
Both teams battled throughout the final eight minutes with the lead changing hand three times and the game being tied five times.
Free throws were the norm during the quarter with each team in the bonus early. Escambia County proved that they have improved at the charity stripe going 17-for-24, while their opponents went 18-for-35 and missed 11 in a row at one point.
The difference came later when the right shots began falling for the Tigers.
The missed free throws were something Madison County head coach Bubba Webster reflected on after the game.
“We are just happy to get out of here with the win after missing 18 free throws,” he said. “We made some big free throws down the stretch that really helped us get out of that.”
With the missed free throws, the only thing that kept the Tigers in the game was their effort on the boards. Through four quarters, Madison County out rebounded the Blue Devils 52-29 with senior Monterio Burchfield pacing them with 22. Most of his rebounds came on offense, which led to a game-high 25 points.
Burchfield’s performance led to praise from Courtney, who noted no player had done that to his team before.
“Nobody has had a kind of game like that against us,” he said. “At times, he outhustled us and other times, he was just in the right position. He had a monster game.”
For the Blue Devils, the big plays came from seniors Fred Knight and Tyrell Ford. Knight led all Blue Devils scorers with 20 points, while Ford pitched in 19 of his own including a three as time expired at the end of the game.
Ford was inept defensively for much of the fourth quarter after picking up his fourth foul with 5:15 left in the contest.
“I had to be careful,” Ford said. “I couldn’t dig in like I wanted to on defense and I couldn’t get down there with Burchfield to fight for rebounds. I knew my team needed me, but I had to make sure I kept myself in the game.”
The game was tight for much of the four quarters, but early on it seemed as if Madison County could pull away.
In the first quarter, the teams opened the first three minutes trading baskets, but the final five minutes were all Tigers. Leading 10-8, they ended the quarter on an 7-0 run.
Escambia County began to put things together in the second period finally hitting some key shots and free throws to outscore the Tigers 15-13, but still trailed at halftime 30-23.
In the second half, the Blue Devils finally put a strong 13-2 run together with Knight, Ford and Desmond Williams (9 points) all contributing. The score moving to the fourth tied at 44.
The fourth period was a track meet at times, but at times, the game stood still with each team sending the other to the free throw line.
Before fouling out Melik McMillan put in his worth for ECHS in the fourth scoring eight points and pulling down three rebounds.
With the state championship berth on the line, the Blue Devils put all of their effort into getting the win. They looked as if they would pull out the win with the Tigers’ Seab Webster (15 points, 8 rebounds) fouling out and earning a technical on his way off the court. The shots gave ECHS a 61-60 lead, but the lead would vanish, as the Tigers ended the game on a 11-7 run.
With just a few seconds left, Ford gave one final, insignificant heave that banked in, but could not stop the Blue Devils’ story from ending.