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The Bronson Eagles finished as runners-up in their own Holiday Tournament, after a slow start to beat Umatilla 68-41 and a strong 75-52 win against Middleburg. Facing a tough Dixie County team in the championship round, Bronson could not sustain a slim halftime lead and fell 52-51 after a brutal second half battle.
"We didn't execute when we needed to, and we couldn't get defensive stops," said Bronson head coach Kelly Beckham.
"We've got to be prepared to play against a good team like Dixie County – we've got to bring our "A" game."
Bronson got into a first quarter hole against Umatilla, scoring first on a fast-break layup by William Harris, but then allowing the Bulldogs to go on a run.
Umatilla stretched a 13-7 lead to 16 before the Eagles exploded, led by Terrance Dukes on a drive up the right side. Bronson poured in 11 straight points before allowing another Bulldog basket, going out at the break with a 28-18 lead with a pair of fast-break buckets by Rodolfo Contreras.
From 10 points down, Umatilla rattled the door in the third quarter. Sean Bentley scored first for the Bulldogs, and Chris Benway and M.J. Bentley combined for three three-pointers. The Eagles stayed ahead with the help of four points from James Rivers, and went into the fourth quarter leading 37-31.
In the last eight minutes, Bronson made it look easy. Dukes took a dish from Harris for the first score, then Jermey Mayes tossed in a baby J. Dukes cut across the lane for another bucket and Dion Thomas had a layup on the break.
That was the first of two monster runs for the Eagles in the fourth quarter, as they loaded up 31 late game points, and every player scored.
Bronson won handily and even Beckham, always his team's sternest critic, was pleased with their work.
"Defensively, we played a whale of a game," he said. "We had some turnovers late, but that was after the lead was stretched out."
As they had against Umatilla, Bronson fell behind early against Dixie County, allowing the Bears to take a 15-9 first quarter lead. Dixie was led by guard Cord Hart, who opened up the game with a big three off the left wing. Tevin Henderson and Steve Godbolt were reliable scorers for the Bears, also playing close defense and rebounding well.
The Eagles bounced back in the second quarter, starting with a three-pointer by Kelby Barber. Harris got to the line and sank both free throws, then went on a tear with a turnaround jumper and a drive up the middle.
Defensively, Bronson did the hard work, holding Dixie to only seven second-quarter points and forcing five turnovers. They used the extra possessions to go to the break leading 26-22.
After a sparkling second quarter by the Eagles, though, the second half belonged to the Bears. Dixie clawed back by dominating the glass on defense, recovering the lead with two minutes left in the third. Bronson fought on, as Dukes and Harris continued to go inside.
Down 40-38, the Eagles tied the game with a putback by Barber as the fourth quarter started. Dixie answered, and Barber came back with a three to sieze the lead. Bronson briefly pulled forward on a bucket by Rivers, but when Dixie came to trade baskets, it seemed the Bears couldn't miss. Henderson repeated, and Rodney Scott and Jimmie Hartsfield chipped in. Harris responded for Bronson, then sank two free throws to take one last lead for Bronson.
Henderson finished a miss by Scott for the go-ahead point and the Bears held the lead to the buzzer.
Bears' Head Coach Frederick Brown said he was speechless at the tournament win.
"I think this is the first ever, for us," he said.
"We played together as a team – it was a team effort," he emphasized. "To come to Bronson and win here is always hard. Coach Beckham is a great coach and Bronson plays hard, so we always have to step up."
At the end, a disappointed Coach Beckham conceded that point.
"The kids did play hard."
Bronson hosts Mayo Friday, Jan. 4, a game that is already hotly anticipated in Bronson. Mayo finished third in the tourney, beating Chipley 74-68 in overtime in the first round, falling to Dixie by 76-72 in the second, and beating Middleburg 88-79 in the final.
"That will be a tough district game, so we'll have to be ready for them," Beckham said.
"We'll use the coming week to get back into a positive attitude and regroup."
William Harris and Terrance Dukes were Bronson's selections for the All-Tournament Team. Dixie's selections were Tevin Henderson, Rodney Scott and Cord Hart. Hart was selected as MVP.