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ECHS brings home Baker Invitational crown

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
The Escambia County High School Blue Devils got the new year off to a great start as they were crowned champions of the Baker Invitational Tournament (Ala.) on Friday night after edging out the host team, 45-39.
After suffering two very close losses that sent them home from the Freeport Tournament two weeks ago, the Devils were looking for something positive to help lift their confidence and momentum. They found what they were looking for in the first game of the Baker tourney as they defeated Satsuma High School on Thursday, 82-60.
ECHS dominated the first half of the ball game as they jumped out to a 17-12 lead in the first quarter. They only got hotter in the second half as they scored 27 points and outscored the opposition by 11. At halftime, ECHS held a 44-28 advantage.
Satsuma was not giving up and were able to get back in the ballgame in the third period after outscoring the Devils 21-16 and cutting the lead to only 11 points, 60-49.
Trying to avoid a close finish, the Devils began to out-hustle Satsuma on the boards and held them to only 11 points in the final period. Offensively, the Devils had a good period as they earned 22 points, which sealed the victory.
Ricky Craft, who had a great tournament, finished the first game with 36 points. He was 13 of 15 from the field. James Nickson and James Wilson each scored 10 points.
Leading rebounder for the Devils was Sharell Johnson with 11.
Head coach Bob Zarahn said after the close defeats in Freeport, his team came into this tournament ready to focus and win.
The key for the Devils' victory over Satsuma was under the hoop as ECHS dominated rebounding.
The victory set up a tournament championship contest against the host school, Baker.
The Devils appeared to be on their way to a defeat as they played from behind through most of the contest. But, a strong second half lifted the Devils to the championship by a final score of 45-39.
The two offenses got off to slow starts as the teams battled each other to a 9-9 tie at the end of the initial period. Then, Baker got hot and shot for 17 points in the second period, while holding ECHS to only 6, giving them a 26-15 lead at halftime.
The Devils began to cut into that lead in the third period as they outscored Baker 18-12. Entering the fourth period, ECHS was still down, 38-33.
The Devils defensive pressure and solid rebounding come up big in the final period as it helped wear the Baker team down. They scored only four points and gave up 12 as the Devils secured a 45-39 come-from-behind victory.
Once again, rebounding paved the way for the Devils.
The Devils won the tournament despite playing without one of the leading rebounders, Barnett Finney, who was sick with the flu. Zarahn said other members of the team did a great job in filling the void.
Leading the Devils to the tournament championship offensively was Craft who finished the game with 17 points. Anthony McCants finished with 12.
The leading rebounder was Moore with 11.
Zarahn said the tournament championship came at a great time, as it will serve as momentum as the Devils prepare to host the United Bank Invitational this weekend.
The wins improve the Devils' record to 10-4 on the season.
Craft, who scored a total of 53 points, was named the tournament's MVP. McCants was also selected as a member of the All-Tournament Team.
The Devils will play Northview High School in the first game of the United Bank Invitational at 8:30 p.m., Thursday.
Ricky Craft-was the MVP.
Anthony McCants was named to the all-tournament team.