The defending State 3A champion, Rickards (Tallahassee) used aggressive defense and senior leadership to defeat the Chipley Tigers 46-35 tonight in a regional semifinal game. “I thought their senior leadership and experience played a major factor in the outcome of the game,” said Chipley coach Joel Orlando. The Tigers came into the contest as Florida’s only undefeated team with a record of 27-0. Ironically, Rickards went undefeated last year on their Class 3A state title run.
The sellout crowd gave the regional semifinal matchup the atmosphere and intensity of a state championship game. Both teams were excited and Chipley got on the board first with a three pointer from junior guard Cameron Dozier. Rickards stormed back to take a 4-3 lead on a put back by Jamal Dowdell. The defensive pressure of the Raider senior backcourt duo of Jacari Bush and D’Marnier Cunningham seemed to rattle a few of the Chipley players but the Tigers would regain their composure on back to back plays by junior guard Alex Hamilton.
Hamilton got loose for a three and then stole a midcourt pass and raced to the basket for a slam. Just like that the Tigers had regained the lead. Senior forward Desmond Gibson of Rickards capped the first quarter scoring with a layup to put Rickards up 9-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Hamilton put Chipley back on top to open the second quarter with another three point basket. Rickards went on a 4-0 run to take a 13-11 lead but the Tigers went on a 5-0 run of their own capped by another three pointer from Dozier. Bush would then score the next four points for Rickards. With: 09 remaining in the first half Chipley senior Ryan Brigham was fouled on a dunk attempt. Brigham sank both free throws to end the first half with the Tigers clinging to an 18-17 lead.
The third quarter would begin with both teams finding a rhythm. Sharp shooting guard AJ Rhoulac scored four points early in the third quarter after being held scoreless in the first half. The lead would change seven times in the quarter but Chipley would remain on top behind four points from reserve forward Fred Davis to hold on to a 29-28 lead.
Cunningham stole a cross court pass to start the fourth quarter but was fouled on the layup. Cunningham knocked down both free throws to give Rickards a 30-29 lead with 7:09 remaining in the game. From that point on, the defending champs used the energy from the crowd and tightened the defense pressure. This time the Raiders didn’t let up. Offensively, they put the ball in senior guard Jacari Bush hands to control the game. Bush is one of the premier guards in Florida when it comes to closing out a game. He kept the ball in his hands and made the defense foul. A steal and two hand tomahawk slam by 6’7 forward Chris Bryant gave Rickards their biggest lead of the game at 36-31 with 3:50 remaining. Chipley wouldn’t go away as Rhoulac pulled from NBA range to drain a three to close the gap at 37-34. The Tigers chances of a comeback were deflated when Bryant got loose for an exclamation jam to put Rickards up for good.
The Raiders have been using their trademark defense all season long to win games. “We are not a high scoring team. We are going to beat you with our defense. Defense wins championships and that’s what we are trying to win,” said Rickards coach Eli Bryant.
D’Marnier Cunningham and Jacari Bush each scored 11 points to lead Rickards. Cunningham made 5-6 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Chris Bryant chipped in 9 points.
Chipley was led by AJ Rhoulac who scored 10 points, all coming in the second half. Alex Hamilton added 8 points. Hamilton didn’t score in the second half. Chipley ends the season at 27-1.
Rickards will move on to face Bradford (Starke) for a return trip to the State Final Four on Saturday.
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