Eagles end Bulldogs’ season

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LAPEL — It is one of the most simple and basic plays in basketball. It dates back to the days when the goal of the game was to put the ball in a peach basket. When it is run properly, it can be very tough to defend.

Saturday evening, the Lapel Bulldogs had no answer for the Frankton back-door cut.

Senior Maurice Knight scored 22 points, and sophomore Kaden Key added 20 and the Eagles repeatedly beat the usually tough Lapel defense for easy layups as Frankton knocked off the defending state champion Bulldogs 63-51 to claim the Sectional 40 championship.

Lapel finished the season at 17-9, while Frankton (19-6) moves on to next Saturday’s regional to play Madison-Grant at Lapel.

Five early points from Key sparked the Eagles to an early 9-1 lead, but the Bulldogs fought back twice to pull within two points before halftime. A 3-point shot from senior Jon Ross Richardson capped a 7-0 Lapel run to pull within 13-11, and junior Josiah Hudson scored on a rebound basket at the buzzer as Lapel closed to within 20-18 at the break.

After the teams traded baskets for much of the third quarter, the Eagles broke out the back-door cut at broke open the tight game.

After a free throw by junior Caleb Bloom pulled Lapel within four at 29-25, Frankton went on a 13-4 run to close out the quarter. The burst was fueled by sophomore Ryan Detling who had four rebounds and three assists during the run, finding Key, Knight and junior Landon Weins on back-door layups. A Weins 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Frankton its biggest lead of the game at 42-29 entering the fourth quarter, but it was the defensive breakdowns that caused Lapel coach Jimmie Howell the most headaches.

“We gave up the baseline more tonight than we have all year,” he said. “They back-doored us, probably eight or 10 times. Those are the kinds of things that shouldn’t happen but they did. That’s what happens under pressure, they revert back and do the things we shouldn’t do.”

A Knight runner in the lane early in the fourth gave Frankton its biggest lead of the game at 46-30 and seemed to put the game away.

But Lapel fought back, one last time.

Back-to-back 3-point shots by Hudson and junior Austin Lyons sparked the final Bulldog push to get back into the game. Junior Preston Scott scored on the block, Lyons hit an 18-foot jumper and sophomore Luke Richardson put back a Lyons miss, as Lapel pulled back to within five at 54-49.

The Bulldogs had a chance to get closer off a Knight turnover, but Key came up with a big steal and Weins hit a pair of free throws to kill the rally and dim the Bulldogs’ hopes. The Eagles converted seven of 10 free throws in the closing moments to finish the game.

Lapel struggled shooting the ball. It converted just 18 of 50 field goal attempts, including 5-of-17 from 3-point range, and missed six free throw attempts. Howell felt that poise, one of the strong suits of this team during the past two years, was absent at the worst possible time.

“The kids battled,” he said. “We just choked. I can’t tell you anybody that I thought played well. They all had moments where they did good things, but they all had times where they did some uncharacteristic things. We had been getting some big early leads the last couple games, but tonight we held them scoreless the first three or four minutes, and we should have been up six or eight points.”

Lyons, Scott and Luke Richardson led the Bulldogs in scoring with 11 points each, while Jon Ross Richardson added 10.

Saturday marked the end of their high school careers for seniors Jon Ross Richardson, Will Jones and Andrew Hunt.

Richardson finished his career as the fourth-leading scorer in Lapel boys basketball history with 1,301 points. Howell said this trio is an exemplary group of kids.

“He’s one of the best we’ve ever had,” Howell said of Richardson. “All the seniors, not only did they try to do everything we’ve asked of them, they represented their school, their team and their community in a most positive way.”