(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
POPLAR BLUFF -- In surviving a rough first half against Eminence on Saturday, the Scott County Central Braves moved one step closer to their fourth-consecutive state championship.
Led by 24 points from senior Lamarcus Steward, the Braves took a three-point lead into the half before holding on for a 65-51 quarterfinal win to book their trip to the Class 1 final four.
"Lamarcus knows he's a senior and if he wants to win this thing it's going to go through him and Dominique (Porter)," Braves' coach Kenyon Wright said of Steward's big night. "I'm not saying the points are going to go through them, but the ball is going through them.
"If they can understand that and see that here coming toward the final four, we can have a chance."
After running away from their competition all the way though sectionals, Scott Central faced a much tough tougher test on Saturday as the Redwings and Braves swapped leads though most of the first half.
It wasn't until the final two minutes before the break that Scott Central was able to swing the momentum its way. Trailing 23-20 following a basket from Eminence's Logan Dyer, the Braves got three-straight buckets from Steward and a pair of steal to go into the locker room with a 26-23 advantage.
"We hung in there and I felt like right before half the momentum changed for them," Redwings' coach Pete McBride said. "They went on that little spurt and it really hurt us there."
Building off that momentum the Braves opened up the third quarter on 12-4 run in the first five minutes of the half, forcing an Eminence timeout. The Redwings responded with a 7-4 rally to close out the frame down eight points at 42-34.
Though a quick basket by Porter pushed the Braves out by six points in the opening stages of the final quarter, the Redwings continued to hang within two possession of Scott Central at 47-42 with 5:08 to play.
Starting with a pair of free throws from Larandis Banks, however, the Braves made one final run to keep Eminence in their rearview.
Sinking both shots, Banks kickstarted drive where the Braves scored nine straight and was capped when Steward knocked down a shot in traffic to give his team 14-point lead,at 56-42, with only three minutes to play.
"These kids have a killer instinct at times," Wright said. "Whenever they can smell it and see it they can do it. I think they smelled it, saw it and jumped on them right there and that really put them to the screws. Nobody wants to go home. This is what you play for."
A quick 3-pointer from Cole Keeling closed the Redwings' deficit to 11, however, the closest they came to making a late was push closing to within 10, at 59-49, with 1:29 remaining.
Getting a layup from Porter and a pair of free throws from Antonio Johnson, the Braves pushed back out by 14-points with 52 seconds left on the clock. After one final missed shots by the Redwings, Scott Central hauled down the rebound and ran the last 30 seconds off the clock as their fans celebrated.
"The pace was the way we wanted it," Eminence head coach Pete McBride said. "We thought if we kept it around 60 (points) we had a chance to win.
"We did that and felt pretty good at halftime, but then they picked up their pressure and changed some things and adjusted to our press break the second half. It caused us a lot of problems in the third quarter."
The Redwings biggest lead of the afternoon came late in the first after they had opened up the game on a 15-10 run. The Braves answered scoring eight straight points to retake the lead before a 10-2 run once again put Eminence on top late in the second quarter.
It was Steward's six-point run to end the half that put the Braves up for good.
"We came out ready to play," McBride said. "We were worried about maybe being a little intimidated just because of who they are and the great tradition they have, but we weren't and the kids played well."
Leading Eminence was Alan Brewer with 16 points while Jesse Lacey contributed 13 to the Redwings cause.
For the Braves, Steward's 24 were a game high while Porter was close behind with 21. Johnson added eight to Scott Centrals' cause.
"Everybody came together and thought, 'If we lose this game we're going home,'" Porter said. "We had to go out there and have the mind frame that we want to go back to Columbia so we have to put this pressure on them and make them turn the ball over so we could get the lead."
SCOTT CENTRAL (65) -- Larandis Banks 6, Jaylen Porter 6, Antonio Johnson 8, Dominique Porter 21, LaMarcus Steward 24. FG 24, FT 16-25, F 13. (3-pointers: Banks 1. Fouled out: none.)
EMINENCE (51) -- Jesse Lacey 13, Cole Keeling 9, Logan Dyer 6, Hunter Adams 5, Alan Brewer 16, James Ennis 2. FG 20, FT 7-10, F 19. (3-pointers: Lacey 2, Keeling 2. Fouled out: Brewer.)