Warriors lose heartbreaker to Junction City in tourney

Thursday, March 13, 2014

East Poinsett County and Junction City faced off Saturday afternoon in first round action of the Class 2A State Tournament at Hampton. It was a rematch of last years classic semifinal battle between the two schools. Saturdays game proved to be just as thrilling, but unlike last season when the Warriors came out on top in stunning come-from-behind fashion, this time it was Junction City that found a way to win, handing EPC a heartbreaking 54-50 setback.

Aaron Scales (2) and Byron Scales (1) battle for a rebound in EPC's 54-50 state tournament loss Saturday to Junction City at Hampton.

Just like a year ago, the Dragons jumped out on top and led through the first three plus quarters of play. Junction City took a seven point lead into the fourth quarter and threatened to run away with the game, scoring the first four points of the final frame when JarKell Brown and Robert Armstrong connected on back to back buckets to give the Dragons a 44-33 lead with 7:00 left. The Warriors roared back, beginning with a three pointer from the left corner by Paul Pilgram. The senior post player added a 10-foot jumper at the 5:05 mark and suddenly EPC trailed just 44-38.

Jamario Bell, a University of Arkansas football commit, tapped in a missed shot with 4:53 left to push the Dragon lead back to eight. Byron Scales answered with a pair of free throws at the 4:25 mark to slice the Junction City lead to 46-40. T.J. Young tightened things up even more with a three pointer off the left elbow to cut the Warrior deficit to 46-43 with 3:40 left in the game.

Bell came right back with a rim rattling dunk off the baseline to bring the crowd to its feet with 3:23 left showing on the clock, giving Junction City a 48-43 advantage. Young drove the lane for two, and after a Dragon turnover, senior point guard Chris Whitfield was fouled and went to the line, connecting on both free throws to slice the Dragon lead to just one point, 48-47, with 2:39 left.

After a Junction City miss, Whitfield found daylight from beyond the three point arc and buried a trey with 1:54 remaining to give the Warriors their only lead of the game, 50-48. The Dragons failed to score on their next possession, and fouled Whitfield, sending the senior to the line to shoot a one and one at the 1:25 mark. Whitfield missed the front end, but the Warriors scrambled for the rebound and got a timeout with 1:24 left in the contest.

Coming out of the timeout, EPC immediately turned the ball over and committed a foul on Bell with 60 ticks left on the clock. Bell made both free throws to tie the game at 50-all. The Warriors had an opportunity to hold for the last shot, but committed their second consecutive unforced error, giving Junction City a chance for the last shot and the win.

Keyundra Evans drove the baseline, but his one-handed floater missed the mark. Unfortunately for the Warriors, 64 sophomore Tyrus Grayson tipped in the miss, giving the Dragons a 52-50 edge with 13 seconds to go. The Warriors hurried the ball up the court, but Whitfields three point attempt from beyond the top of the key banged off the backboard with Bell snaring the rebound for the Dragons. EPC fouled Bell immediately, but there was only one second left on the clock. The 66 junior sank both ends of the one and one to set the final score.

Junction City jumped to a 12-4 lead after the first quarter with the Warriors only points coming from Aaron Scales. The Dragons led by as many as 13 points, 20-7, late in the second stanza, before EPC went on a 10-0 run capped off by consecutive three pointers from Whitfield to slice the deficit to three. Graysons five foot floater with 15 seconds left gave Junction City a 22-17 halftime advantage. Byron Scales kept EPC within striking distance in the third quarter with nine points, but the Dragons still led 40-33 entering the final frame.

This game really hurt, said EPC Coach Josh Hill. We had the game at the end where we wanted it. We just didnt make a couple of plays that we needed at the end. But I am really proud of these kids. They refuse to give up. They just dont know any better. They believe they are supposed to win no matter who we play. I wouldnt trade this group for the world. They have battled all year long. We ended up 25-8 and had a helluva year, said Hill.

Whitfield led the Warriors with 16 points while Byron Scales also hit double digits with 10. Pilgram scored nine, Aaron Scales netted seven, Young tallied five while Clay Malone chipped in three points to round out the EPC offensive attack. The Warriors finished 7-11 from the foul line and made seven treys on the day.

Bell pumped in 18 points to lead Junction City while Grayson and Evans added eight points apiece. The Dragons hit 6-10 foul shots and drained a pair of three pointers.

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