Belgreen comeback falls short
Belgreen coach Marty Cooper knew going into Thursday night’s regional semi-final bout against defending state champion Decatur Heritage was going to bring some match-up problems.
The size and length of Eagle stars GianCarlo Valdez and Caleb Burks proved to be the difference maker for Decatur Heritage, as they held off a late comeback by the Bulldogs to win 68-65.
“They are the defending state champions for a reason,” said Cooper. “They are here for a reason. But I’m proud of the way our guys fought and never gave in. I am proud of what we accomplished. We came a long way from where we were in November.
“It is hard to overcome a team with the size and strength of Decatur Heritage,” Cooper added. “We haven’t faced a lot of teams like that this year, but we didn’t give in.”
Belgreen took an 18-16 lead a few seconds before the close of the first quarter, but Decatur Heritage nailed a three-pointer as time expired that started an 11-0 run, giving the Eagles a 26-16 lead.
Belgreen cut the lead to 29-24 with 4:37 to go in the first half, but the Eagles quickly ran the lead back to 10 points, 34-24, on a three-pointer and breakaway layup.
Decatur Heritage led 36-31 at the half.
Will and Collin Bonner combined to scored 27 of the Bulldogs 31 first half points.
Scout Bragwell, who wasn’t given many open looks throughout the game, scored his first points of the game early in the second half on a layup. Soon after, Bragwell hit his only three-pointer of the game to cut the Eagles lead to four points, 44-40, with 4:48 to go in the third quarter.
Decatur Heritage pushed their lead back to 11 points, 51-40, with 1:48 to go in the third quarter.
The Eagles led 53-44 at the end of the third quarter.
A three-pointer by Valdez gave Decatur Heritage its biggest lead of the night, 60-46, with 5:52 to go in the game – but Belgreen did not give in.
The Bulldogs cut the Eagles’ lead to seven, 62-55, with just less than two minutes to go in the game.
Three-pointers by Collin and Will Bonner cut Decatur Heritage’s lead to 67-63 with 16 seconds remaining in the game, and a layup by David Plott in the closing seconds made the score 68-65.
The Bonner brothers combined for 46 of Belgreen’s 65 points, scoring 23 points each. Bryant Hubbert added eight points and eight rebounds. Bragwell had five points, Isac Willingham four points and Plott two points.
Will Bonner was six for 18 from the field and eight for 13 from the free-throw line. Collin Bonner was 10-15 from the field.
Valdez led Decatur Heritage with 23 points and seven assists. Burks added 17 points and seven rebounds. Brayden Kyle had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Belgreen ends the season with a 22-8 record.
To get to the semifinals, the Belgreen Bulldogs crushed the Mars Hill Panthers in the Class 1A subregionals Tuesday night 75-45.
Belgreen led Mars Hill 17-12 at the end of the first quarter. The Bulldogs exploded for 28 points in the second quarter to take a 45-24 halftime lead. Bragwell hit six first half three-pointers to help the Bulldog surge, and Collin Bonner got 11 points in the second quarter for Belgreen.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to 61-32 by the end of the third quarter.
Bragwell led Belgreen with 23 points. Collin Bonner followed with 22 points. Will Bonner added 18 points. Plott had five points, Willingham four points and Hubbert three points.