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Speed vs. Power. A perfect season in the balance. Old rivals colliding for a championship rubber match. The 3-Point Club Finals are full of drama.
Four teams will battle for the 7-8 grade postseason tournament championship Friday, with a year of county bragging rights in the balance. On the girls side, the Morrison Lady Eagles will be trying to complete a 15-0 season when they take on the Centertown Lady Warriors at 7 p.m. at Charlie Dalton Gym. In the nightcap, the Morrison Eagles, coming off a 10-0 season, will take on the Dibrell Wildcats, who won the preseason tournament. The final game is set for 8:15 p.m.
Styles will be clashing in both championship games as the top two teams in girls and boys basketball are all accustomed to winning in different ways. Their success was on full display Tuesday when they all punched their tickets to the finals in convincing fashion.
Here are game-by-game recaps of the semifinals:
Morrison Lady Eagles 44, Dibrell Lady Wildcats 23
The tournament favorites and lone unbeaten team in the county made sure they would have a date with destiny in the finals Friday. The Morrison Lady Eagles, led by another huge game from Jayla Garibaldi, took down Dibrell 44-23 Tuesday.
It was the third time the teams had faced each other in the span of five days after meeting in a doubleheader to cap the regular season. Dibrell earned its way into the semifinals by beating Irving College Saturday 26-15, but the Lady Wildcats didn’t have an answer for Morrison’s fleet of quick guards, led by Garibaldi.
The leader of the Lady Eagles did her damage in usual fashion – getting to the bucket over and over in transition and in the halfcourt. Garibaldi finished with 22 points, all but two coming in the first three quarters as Morrison built an insurmountable lead.
That advantage may not have been as bulletproof if not for Chloe Wanamaker showing out. The Lady Eagles second guard played like an all-star Tuesday, grabbing steals and scoring at will to record a season-high 15 points.
Harmoni Kennerly, one the league’s top scorers in the regular season, added eight points.
Maddox Adams did her best to lead Dibrell, scoring 15 points in the semifinals. It wasn’t enough to keep up with the high-octane Lady Eagles, who have been running and gunning all season on their way to 14 straight wins.
Lady Eagle scoring – Jayla Garibaldi 22, Chloe Wanamaker 15, Harmoni Kennerly 8, Myka Garibaldi 2, Samantha Saldana 2
Lady Wildcat scoring – Maddox Adams 15, Ana Dimas 6, Anslee Crick 2
Morrison Eagles 34, Eastside Bulldogs 21
It wasn’t the prettiest win, but the Morrison Eagles took care of business against the Eastside Bulldogs to extend their winning streak to 11 games. Behind 13 points from Isaiah Robledo, Morrison dispatched of the Bulldogs 34-21.
There was no surprise that Eastside gave Morrison a run for its money in the semifinals, even if the game looked like a mismatch before tip-off. The Eagles were coming off a 10-0 season and had beaten the Bulldogs (4-6) by 47 points in their two previous matchups, but Robledo and his squad couldn’t put it in cruise control until the final minutes.
Eastside coach Kyle Cannon had his troops up to the challenge after taking down Centertown 42-30 Saturday to earn a spot in the Final Four boys teams. Cannon also had the added luxury of knowing his opponents almost as well as his own team (he served as Morrison coach for several years, including coaching the Robledos – Isaiah and Kristopher).
Donnivin Johnson’s scoring (10 points, including 8-for-8 from the line) and Lex Winfree’s rugged defense and rebounding had Eastside down 27-21 entering the fourth, but Morrison had another gear ready. The Eagles turned up the pressure down the stretch, hounding Eastside’s guards all over Charlie Dalton Gym and forcing tons of turnovers.
Eastside didn’t score in the fourth quarter, while Kristopher Robledo had five of his eight points late to seal the victory. Braxton Gibbs added seven for the Eagles, five coming in the first quarter when Morrison built a 14-4 advantage.
Winfree and Kingston Judkins scored four points each as the Bulldogs battled back through three quarters, but ran out of steam late.
Eagle scoring – Isaiah Robledo 13, Kristopher Robledo 8, Braxton Gibbs 7, Luke Saldana 4, Lake Sadlon 2
Bulldog scoring – Donnivin Johnson 10, Lex Winfree 4, Kingston Judkins 4, Christian Munoz 2, Jake Gilespie 1
Centertown Lady Warriors 45, Eastside Lady Bulldogs 32
If there was a coinflip game coming into the semifinals, it was the matchup between the Lady Warriors and Lady Bulldogs. After all, the teams split their regular-season meetings and only a tiebreaker, won by Centertown, separated the squads in the standings after 7-3 campaigns.
For most of Tuesday’s game, it was nip-and-tuck as expected. Down the stretch though, Kealey Simpson was just too strong for Eastside. The powerful center of the Lady Warriors scored 10 of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to push Centertown to a 45-32 triumph.
Centertown was clinging to a 15-13 halftime lead, with Emma Carter’s 3-pointer in the second quarter helping the Lady Warriors stay out front. In the second half, Simpson and PG Allie Melton carried Centertown to the finish line.
Melton had 12 points in the victory and played hounding defense on the league’s top scorer, Sarah Kate Winfree. Eastside’s star sixth grader still finished with a game-high 19 points, but her valiant effort – featuring a 3-pointer late as she tried to do whatever it took to win – wasn’t enough to keep up with Simpson.
Centertown kept feeding Simpson down the stretch, knowing the Lady Bulldogs had no answer for her size or strength. Simpson set up shop in the paint and powered her team to a pivotal win as the Lady Warriors hope to be the Cinderella of the postseason tournament.
Lady Warrior scoring – Kealey Simpson 18, Allie Melton 12, Shelby Miller 6, Kendra Fann 6, Emma Carter 3
Lady Bulldog scoring - Sarah Kate Winfree 19, Macie Bush 9, Ansli Womack 2, Kyaira Sharpe 2
Dibrell Wildcats 42, Irving College Tigers 22
Leaning on defense and free-throw shooting, Dibrell put away Irving College 42-22 in the final game of the semifinals Tuesday night. Lee-Allen Esparza and Chance Whitlock had 13 and 11 points, respectively, in the Wildcat win, which featured a suffocating defense that limited two of the league’s top scorers.
Irving College came in knowing it had a chance to upset Dibrell. While the Wildcats swept the regular season meetings, one of those wins was a Double OT slugfest, suggesting not much separated the two squads. In the third matchup, the Tigers just couldn’t stay on the court long enough to make a run.
Fouls piled up quickly for Irving College, including post Brayden Snider and guard Corban Felton – the league’s top scorer – getting into foul trouble. Dibrell capitalized on all the whistles, scoring 14 of its 18 first-half points from the line to build a double-digit lead.
The Tigers looked ready to make a run after halftime, getting 3-pointers from Felton and Trathan Taylor to temporarily cut the deficit down to five. Esparza and Whitlock made sure it never got closer though.
Esparza attacked the rim relentlessly, finishing around and through the Tiger defense. Once Irving College had both its big men – Snider and Wesley Clendenon – on the bench, there was nobody left to stop the 6-foot-4 Whitlock.
Dibrell’s big man had a 3-point play late in the third quarter that helped seal the victory. The Wildcats rolled late, with Jace Matheney scoring two late baskets on his way to seven points as the lead swelled to 20.
Wildcat scoring – Lee-Allen Esparza 13, Chance Whitlock 11, Jace Matheney 7, Evan Tittsworth 4, Syler Simmons 4, Jordin Mitchell 2, Kobe Brand 1
Tiger scoring – Corban Felton 7, Anden Green 6, Trathan Taylor 3, Wesley Clendenon 3, Brayden Snider 2, Sam Fults 1
FINALS PREVIEW – Morrison vs. Centertown
Regular season matchups: Morrison won both games, 37-29 and 40-32.
While Centertown lost both games, the Lady Warriors were the only team to keep the final score within single digits against the Lady Eagles, whose average margin of victory this season was 26.6 points.
The Stars – Jayla Garibaldi and Kealey Simpson
Both teams take on the styles of their top players. Garibaldi (15.7 ppg in regular season) is a speedster, capable of beating anybody off the dribble and finishing at the rim with ease. She’s also spearheads Morrison’s pressure defense, which will extend all 94 feet and hounds opponents. Garibaldi is an automatic two points if she can get a steal in the backcourt.
Simpson is a cinderblock in the paint, completely unmovable when she establishes position. Teams can throw two or three players at her, but if Simpson can make a clean catch, she can finish with either hand. She’s also started using her size on defense, intimidating drivers with her ability to swat shots into the stands.
The role players
Harmoni Kennerly, Chloe Wanamaker (Morrison), Allie Melton, Kendra Fann (Centertown)
Kennerly and Wanamaker are the perfect complimentary pieces for the Lady Eagles and are each capable of taking over a game if defenses send too much help on Garibaldi. Kennerly is Morrison’s juggernaut – unstoppable once she gets momentum toward the goal. While she can roam on the wing, she’s also stout enough to go into the paint and wrestle for rebounds. Wanamaker does all the dirty work on the perimeter and throws her body around to get stops. Wanamaker comes into the finals cooking after a 15-point performance in the semifinals.
For Centertown to have a chance in the finals, Melton will have to continue her steady play at point guard. Melton has flashes of brilliance offensively (she was one of just six players to score 20-plus points in a game this year) and runs coach Kelly Eckenrod’s system with precision and patience. Melton will be key to handling Morrison’s relentless pressure. Fann will be counted on to provide extra rebounding, help defense and a splash of scoring in the finals.
Centertown could get a major boost in the finals if Trinity Reynolds is cleared to play. Reynolds was one of the team’s top guards before suffering a broken hand in January. She missed the team’s last four regular season games and sat out Tuesday’s semifinals, but there was a glimmer of hope she could get back in uniform by Friday.
FINALS PREVIEW – Morrison vs. Dibrell
Regular season matchups: Morrison won both games, 41-33 and 32-20.
Unusual circumstances surrounded the anticipated showdown of the top two boys teams in the regular season. The Eagles and Wildcats didn’t meet until the final night of the season as both amassed 8-0 records before a doubleheader last week. The first game was a one-possession game in the final minute, but there wasn’t much time to make adjustments before the second matchup an hour later. Dibrell won the preseason matchup, claiming the Morrison Ruritan title with a thrilling 34-32 victory.
The stars – Isaiah Robledo and Chance Whitlock
Isaiah’s little brother Kristopher may have led Morrison in scoring this year (by one point), but Isaiah is the one who has the ball in his hands in the clutch for the Eagles. He’s an unflappable guard – nothing seems to get Isaiah to panic and he has ice in his veins at the line late in contests. When allowed to roam, Robledo is a terror defensively, capable of covering every inch of the floor with his agility and awareness.
Whitlock brings a size advantage into every matchup and Dibrell will need him to play even bigger Friday night. Morrison can turn any game into a layup line with its army of guards, but Whitlock is a cheat code at the rim – a long-armed leaper who can erase shots and frighten shooters into rushed attempts. Offensively, Whitlock will have to work hard to establish deep position against the Eagles and keep the ball high to avoid Morrison’s pesky guards from getting steals.
The role players
Kristopher Robledo, Braden Haggins (Morrison), Lee-Allen Esparza, Syler Simmons (Dibrell)
Kristopher and Braden combine with Isaiah to form the league’s most feared press. Though neither are big guys, they can fly and never seem to run out of energy, making bringing the ball up the court into a gauntlet every time. Both are capable scorers who can catch fire from deep as well.
Esparza has been the pick to navigate Morrison’s press most nights. He’s the team’s lead guard and has the best chance of keeping up with Morrison’s impressive speed, though he won’t be able to handle the pressure alone. Simmons can serve as a safety valve against the press and is a brute at the basket if he’s finishing layups. Simmons’ versatility will be key – the Wildcats will need his inside-out game to counter Morrison’s high-powered offense.
WHERE TO WATCH THE FINALS
The 3-Point Club tournament finals are set to begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Charlie Dalton Gym. Games will start at 4:30 p.m. with consolation games and a trophy presentation will follow play after the games. Fans are encouraged to arrive early for the finals in case the previous games are completed early.
WCS-TV also plans to broadcast all of Friday’s game on its YouTube feed. WCSA editor-in-chief Jeff Simmons and WCSA reporter Trevor Evans will be on the call and guest appearances are expected during the broadcast.