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Cougars lose heartbreaker in state finals

By By Paul Keane
MONTGOMERY -- The fourth time proved to be the charm for Evangel Christian, as the Lions beat Escambia Academy, 53-48, in the AISA Class 2A State Championship Basketball game Friday night at Huntingdon College.
The loss was the first of the season for the Cougars against the Lions, as EA had won both area contests and topped Evangel in the area tournament title game. In the biggest game of the season, though, the Lions put together a solid fourth quarter run to secure the first basketball state title in school history.
Trailing by four points, 40-36, heading into the final stanza, Evangel saw the deficit extended to six points off a Cole Norton jumper to start things in the fourth quarter, making it 42-36. That's when Evangel went on a 10-0 run, with a jumper at the 4:51 mark making tying the game at 42-42, a margin that was stretched out to 46-42 before Jace Beasley hit a short jumper with 1:08 left in the game.
Down the stretch, Evangel connected on 7-of-11 free throws to ice the game. The only points for EA came off two free throws and a jumper by Robert Hardy during that same stretch.
Evangel hung around just long enough to finally break through and put together the run that won the state title for the Lions.
After the Lions jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead off an opening three-pointer, the Cougars went on a 5-0 run, getting a layup from Bradford Price, a jumper from Beasley and a free throw by Cody White before the Lions tied things up at 5-5 off a layup. A hardy jumper and a Beasley turnaround made it 9-5, but Evangel was able to tie things up again at 9-9 before Price converted a three-point play with 53 seconds left in the quarter. Right near the end of the quarter, though, Josh Thornton drained a three-pointer to give Evangel a 13-12 advantage heading into the second quarter.
The Lions stretched that lead to 15-12 before Hardy hit the back end of a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 15-13. Trailing 17-13, the Cougars went on a 5-0 run, with David Daniel hitting a three-pointer and Cole Norton scoring on a spin move to give EA an 18-17 advantage.
Thornton then hit on a pair of free throws before Price tied things at 19-19 off a free throw. Hardy would later tie it at 21-21 with a jumper at the 4:29 mark, sparking a 9-0 run that gave the Cougars a 28-21 lead with just over a minute left before the intermission.
Evangel would cut the lead to 28-24 by halftime, but the momentum appeared to be on the side of the Cougars.
That momentum continued in the third quarter as Beasley scored off a Hardy assist to make it 30-26, then White hit a jumper at the 6:34 mark to make it 32-26. Evangel cut the lead to 32-31, but White hit a pair of free throws to make it 34-31 with 5:06 left in the third.
After the Lions cut the margin to 34-33, Beasley scored on two straight possessions, making it a 38-33 game.
The teams traded buckets from that point on, with Escambia Academy taking a 40-36 lead into the final stanza.
For the night, the Cougars pulled down 36 rebounds while Evangel managed 24. The Lions turned the ball over 14 times to the Cougars 12.
Hardy led the scoring with 12 points while Beasley added 10 and Price poured in eight.
The berth in the state championship game was the farthest the Cougars had advanced in the state tournament under head coach Chad Prewett.