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Bronson fends off Chiefland in district tourney

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By Sean Arnold

As the No. 3 seed facing a sixth-seeded Chiefland squad it had defeated twice in the regular season, Bronson figured to be the favorite in the opening round of the District 1A-7 hoops tournament in Bell.

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A 23-5 Eagle lead in the first half seemed to confirm that prognostication, but the Indians weren’t prepared to go away lightly, as they staged a mid-game rally to pull to within six in the third quarter.

Bronson soon recaptured their early momentum, however, to pull away for a 69-42 win.

The Eagles moved on to face eventual district champion Dixie County in the semifinal round, where they fell 71-52.

“I think they found out Chiefland came to play,” BMHS coach Kenny Thomas said. “I think they started thinking, ‘Hey, this could be our season right here,’ and that kind of woke them. A little urgency came upon them and they started picking it up a little bit.”

Bronson built its early lead behind a wide distribution of scoring contributors, as seven different Eagles put points on the board in the opening quarter. The foul line was also a key source of scoring, as Bronson went 9 for 13 in the quarter. That also put Chiefland big man Brian Norris Jr. in foul trouble, which put the Indians at a disadvantage inside against junior center Tra Francis, who sprinkled all 13 of his team-high points across the first three quarters.

“When our most physical player (Norris Jr.) was in the game, we were chipping away.," CMHS coach Adam Boyd said. "We were able to play with them in the second and third quarters, and then he went in and picked up his fifth foul and it kind of let the air out of us. That’s not the only thing, but not being able to put him back in the game really hurt us.”

Chiefland’s comeback effort in the middle quarters was spawned by its improved defensive play and success from beyond the 3-point line, where senior River Lundy converted on four triples; freshman Ty Corbin and sophomores Payne Parnell and Rodney Williams (seven points) each added a 3 in the first half.

Lundy’s second 3 came with five seconds remaining in the opening half and pulled Chiefland to within 34-24. The senior emerged from the break with more in his tank as he unleashed back-to-back 3s to get it to 37-30. Lundy, who was playing at his former school in Bell, twice pulled Chiefland to within six on 2-point buckets later in the third. He finished with a game-high 18 points.

From there, Francis and the Bronson defense began to turn the tide back in the Eagles’ favor as they wore down a thin Chiefland lineup. Francis joined fellow junior Glen Cooper and senior Julius Smith with a pair of field goals apiece in the third.

“Coach told us we’ve got to turn up the tempo,” Smith said. “And guys actually brought it to the court. A lot of us got off to a slow start.”

Eight different Eagles finished with at least six points in the game, including Andrew Jenkins (nine points), Caleb Rice (eight), Brian Sheppard (seven), Kendrick Reed (seven), Jarius Thomas (eight), Cooper (six), Francis (13) and Smith (seven).

“We got a little momentum, got a little speed, and I think we wore them down a little bit in the first half because they couldn’t sub very much,” Kenny Thomas said. “And we got some (fast) breaks and easy baskets and that kind of got us going.

“But my hat’s off to Chiefland. They really played pretty good I thought. (CMHS coach Adam Boyd’s) done a great job at Chiefland with what he’s dealing with”

The Indians were down to three seniors, one junior and nine freshmen and sophomores who were mostly junior varsity call-ups. Making matters worse, the team was hit with a flu bug the week leading up to the tournament.

“It was just hard to get everyone on the same page,” Boyd said. “There were so many games and so little practice in January, and we added (seven or eight) JV kids, so it was tough getting everyone on the same page with the nuances of that press. Everyone’s got to be on the same page for it to work.

“It comes down to lack of experience and lack of physical maturity,” Boyd added. “There were plenty of times when they came in at us and we just weren’t strong enough. It’s not necessarily talent, it’s just that some of our guys look like middle schoolers.”

Its reliance on youth this season does give the program hope for the future.

“If they’re willing to work,” Boyd said, “we’ll be alright.”