Arlington Country Day again eliminates Bronson

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By Jenna McKenna

ORANGE PARK –For the Bronson Eagles, their 64-32 regional quarterfinal loss to Arlington Country Day was like deja vu all over again, except this year it came one round earlier, due to a shakeup in the regions by the Florida High School Activities Association.

ACD is the three-time defending state champion in 2A, and last year when the Eagles played in the Sweet 16, the Apaches had four senior McDonald's All-American nominees, including two players bound for University of Kentucky and Webber International University.

This year's Apaches were not all that, coming out of a rebuilding year, as it were, and carrying a record of 19-6.

Unlike their guests, 18-10 Bronson, ACD were again loaded with incredible size, with a frontcourt that averaged 6-7 and a 6-9 center. Junior big man Wally Judge has already committed to Kansas State, and was nearly unstoppable on the floor last Thursday, but the Apaches were missing guard R.J. Wright, one of their leading scorers, after a head injury in ACD's district semifinal.

With all that in mind, the Eagles had at least a better chance than last year to bring their best game up to Jacksonville, but some hesitant play early and a devastating scoring drought in the first quarter left them too far behind to catch up.

"To start with, we came in kind of intimidated, and we never really gave ourselves a chance," said Bronson head coach Kelly Beckham.

The Eagles attacked the tempo early, remembering ACD's up-and-down style of the previous year and applying the brakes. James Rivers and Kelby Barber rebounded on defense, and the Eagles collapsed to the ballhandler to prevent the Apaches from firing up their run.

Judge led scorers in the first quarter and the game, but scores came piecemeal as the Eagles forced ACD to the line. However, neither did Bronson score for much of the opening eight, until a three-pointer from Barber put them on the board near the two-minute mark.

As the second quarter started, the Eagles trailed 17-3. Now they attacked the basket more aggressively, but had to maintain the same deliberate tempo as before.

"When you dig yourself a hole against a team like this, to get back in it you have to play a style of game that they like very much," Beckham noted afterwards. "It just gets worse."

Bronson moved the ball around, and Dion Thomas started them off with a pretty reverse layup.

ACD defended well, though, and forced a series of turnovers, converting two into buckets from Anthony Mosely.

Bronson tended the ball better and started going inside, with Rivers, Rodolfo Contreras and C.J. King drawing fouls and going a combined six-for-six from the stripe. Terrance Dukes scored off the inbounds play, and at the end of the half the score was 32-14 Arlington.

As it happened, Bronson's second quarter was its strongest. The Apaches began to pick up the pace on the Eagles in the third, as James Bell and Ryan Blue took some of the shots that Bronson defenders Barber and Jermey Mayes had been denying Judge.

Bronson hustled for rebounds, with Rivers stealing lots of second shots at the defensive end, but the Eagles were overmatched in the paint, sizewise, and had trouble keeping possession as the Apaches got their hands into the passing lanes.

Still, Bronson kept working. ACD's Bell got a breakaway dunk off a steal, but Thomas came back for the Eagles with a pull-up jumper. King broke into the lane and hit Contreras down low, and Enrique Wiseman took a reverse layup off a rebound and dish from King. Bronson trailed 51-22 after three quarters.

After a slow third, the Eagles had a stronger fourth quarter, opened by Thomas' nice scoop shot. Contreras found Wilberto Encarnacion outside for a big three and Rivers got inside for a layup. Bronson was too far down, though, and halfway through the fourth quarter, ACD's Roderick Vails got a bucket off a steal and sent the score to 59-24, running the clock. Beckham, who had already been substituting freely, emptied the bench to let the JV grads get a taste of battle.

As the clock burned, Bronson's Zach Hamilton was tagged by the defender and went to the line, sinking both free throws, and Raymie Powers had just sunk the first of two free throws when the final buzzer rang, ending the game.

"We just didn't come in focused enough," Beckham said later. "We shot our free throws well early, but we just didn't get to the line very often. And of course there was a huge size advantage. If I could go out and handpick my players, we'd be big, too."