Devils’ streak ends in semifinals

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blue Devil Derrick Williams defends Butler's Justin Pride Wednesday night in ECHS' semifinal match up with the Rebels.

A vow to return to the AHSAA Final 48 was the message that Anthony Hayes gave following his team’s 48-31 loss to the No. 1 Butler Rebels in the Class 4A semifinal matchup.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but we are pleased to be here,” Hayes said. “We will be back; Escambia County High School will be back to this same place next season.”

Hayes, the head basketball coach for Escambia County High School, was in his first game back leading the Blue Devils since returning from training with his unit in the U.S. Army Reserves that will mobilize to Afghanistan later this year.

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The semifinal game did not go as the No. 4 Blue Devils (27-5, 6-0) had hoped, as they shot a dismal 13-for-41 and scored a season-low 31 points.

Escambia County looked the part of David taking on Goliath moving into halftime trailing 21-20, but were outscored 27-11 in the second half,  including a fourth quarter where they only scored four points.

The game plan for the Blue Devils was to keep Butler guard Justin Pride out of the game as long as possible, which was accomplished in the first half only allowing him two points, but the third and fourth quarters were a different story, as he scored eight points and controlled the tempo of the game.

Experience in these situations proved to be the winner for Pride’s strong performance, Hayes said.

“Everybody knows if you talk about Justin Pride that he has been playing varsity since he was in eighth grade,” Hayes said. “You know sooner or later that he will break out and control the game at some point. We really focused on keeping him out of the game, and it worked in the first half, but with experienced players that maturity is always going to win.”

Before Pride became a factor, the Blue Devils looked as if they could take control of the game.

In the first half, Butler pulled ahead 21-14, but ECHS rallied with a 6-0 in the final two minutes before halftime to pull within one point of the Rebels.

The Blue Devils came out with the same fire to start the second half and pulled ahead 27-21 early in the third period, but fell into a scoring drought that lasted well into the fourth quarter.

Butler took advantage of the scoring woes and with the help of trips to the free throw line outscored ECHS 27-14 in the final 12 minutes of the contest.

A failure to properly executive offensive plays during the cold spell took the air out of the Blue Devils, Hayes said.

“We just became stagnant at times,” Hayes said. “We were up when they made that run to get back on top, and then we just went flat. We weren’t doing what we wanted to do offensively, and when that happens, we have trouble scoring.”

Blue Devils guard Fred Knight was looked at to be a factor in the semifinal game, but failed to have a strong night.

Knight finished the contest with an uncharacteristic six points on 3-of-15 shooting.

The caliber of the defense the Blue Devils faced was an issue for ECHS, Knight said.

“They were playing us tight on defense, and they were making it hard for us to score,” Knight said. “They have one of the better defenses that we have faced all season.”

Blue Devils forward Desmond Williams was the scoring leader for ECHS with 10 points and also had eight rebounds in the match up.

Escambia County guard Tyrell Ford finished the game with seven points, while center Dalvin Craft recorded four.

Rounding out the scoring were guard Derrick Williams with two points and forward Desmond Johnson with one point.

With the loss, the Blue Devils’ 26-game winning streak came to an end. Butler will now move on to play in the state final against Midfield at 11 a.m. today in Birmingham.