By REID TUCKER
Though it was Freeport’s girls who took home the Beach Basketball Blowout trophy, the Paxton boys’ squad made a run of it too, finishing second to South Carolina’s Lexington High School Cavaliers.
The 66-56 loss was the first of any kind for Paxton in the 2013-2014 season, and it might have gone differently had the Bobcats not had a disastrous second quarter. Paxton led 16-13 at the end of the first quarter of the New Year’s Eve boys’ bracket final, but making just 2-of-9 field goals before halftime gave the Cavs, who hit 7-of-15 in the period, a 30-24 lead at the break.
The South Carolina team had an obvious size and depth advantage over Paxton and used both to its advantage throughout the night, but Paxton used long-range shooting to keep the game close enough through the third quarter. Lexington led Paxton 49-41 at the end of Q3 but extended the lead to 66-52 with a minute remaining as the Bobcats continued to get out-rebounded as the game dragged on. Paxton went out with a little flair as Desmond Moore pulled up with :2 showing on the clock and got a 3-pointer to make it a loss of 10 points for the Bobcats.
Paxton’s high-scorers on the night were Austin Carnley (17 points) and Moore (12 points), while Lexington’s leaders were Nelson Spence (20 points) and Mike Morris (18 points). However, all but a few of Lexington’s 15-man squad put points on the scoreboard.
As tough as the going was in its final game of the tournament, Paxton made it worse for its semi-final opponents, the Jellico Blue Devils, the night before. The Bobcats dominated the Tennessee team, scorching ahead to a 41-22 lead at halftime thanks to six three-pointers split between Carnley, William Anderson and Devin Huckaba. The closest Jellico got after the first quarter was 57-45 with 1:30 left in the game, but Paxton continued to pile on shots into the last 60 seconds, at which time they killed the clock to hold on to the win.
While most of the Herald’s local coverage basketball teams battled it out in Freeport over Christmas break, Paxton’s girls’ squad took the show on the road to the Destin Holiday Classic.
The Lady Cats finished third at the three-day tournament, which got underway on Dec. 27 at the Destin Community Center. Paxton went 2-1 at the Holiday Classic, improving to 15-2 on the season.
On the tourney’s opening day Paxton blasted past Houston Academy (7-4), finishing off the Dothan, Ala., team by a final score of 56-37. Bethany Neale and Emily Murray were Paxton’s high-scorers through all three games, and in the first contest Neale contributed 15 points and Murray 13 toward Lady Cats’ total.
Paxton got a rough reception from Corbin High on Dec. 28, falling 64-41 to the Kentucky squad, which had three players – Natalye Gallagher, Sarah Ashley and Melanie Wilson – all get into double digits, while Neale was Paxton’s top scorer with 13 points in the contest. Corbin led 42-21 at half and maintained that lead throughout the rest of the contest by shooting a reported 68 percent from the field. Corbin advanced to and won the Dec. 30 championship game in convincing fashion, felling Fort Walton Beach High by final score of 54-36.
Corbin’s high scorers in that game were sisters Miranda and Kayla Wilson, who combined to score 35 points on the night. It was the sister act for Corbin, Kentucky, High School at the Destin Community Center Monday night.
Paxton, on the other hand earned a berth to the game for third place, played against New Site High earlier that Monday. The game went into overtime, but it was the Lady Cats who emerged victorious, with the final score showing 69-68 in their favor after a close contest. New Site’s Grace Elliot nailed a shot from the perimeter with 7.4 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game 64-all, but Paxton’s Quinn Williams matched the feat with a deep 3 of her own at the end of OT to clinch the game for the Lady Cats.
Murray scored 28 points in the third-place game and she led the tournament in 3-pointers, with six perimeter shots to her credit. Neale added 25 points, more than New Site’s two highest-scoring players, Cristin Pharr and Elliot, who scored 23 and 19 points, respectively, in the contest.
In a final bit of Paxton hoops-related news, the fourth-annual Cats Against Cancer pre-Christmas classic raised $4,876 before expenses to support cancer research. Funds raised from admissions, concessions, donations and t-shirt sales at the two-day round-robin tournament, held Dec. 20-21, went toward several local charities. Among the non-profits supported by Cats Against Cancer were St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Walton County branch of the American Cancer Society, and the oncology department of Pensacola’s Baptist Hospital, which sponsored the event.
By REID TUCKER