EASTPOINT - The Franklin County Seahawks fought off a pesky Altha Wildcat squad before a raucous crowd in the Nest Thursday evening, and triumphed 52-40, earning the right to battle Malone Tuesday for a berth in the Final Four in Lakeland.
Malone, as the top-ranked team in the region, gets to host the regional championship. They defeated Bozeman 76-52 Thursday night in the other regional semi-final
After junior Owen Poloronis and senior Jeremiah Stephens hit back-to-back three-pointers to open the game, the Wildcats clamped down on defense and kept the game close through the first two quarters, with the Seahawks clinging to a 23-20 lead going into the locker room.
In the third, a Wildcat trey knotted the game early, and a second one minutes later brought Altha within two, 28-26.
Stephens, who led all players with 16 points on the night, then managed a steal and laid it in, for a four-point lead. Minutes later, Poloronis drove the basket and was fouled while sinking an off-balance shot and then hit the free throw for a seven-point lead, 33-26.
He followed that with another three-pointer near the end of the quarter, helping the Seahawks outscore Altha 13-6 in the third, and they held a 36-26 lead going into the fourth quarter.
But with the Wildcats having a hot hand at the free throw line, and the Seahawks cooling at the charity stripe, Altha drew within four with two minutes left to play.
It was then that Stephens found a wide open sophomore Ethan Kembro outside the arc, right in front of the Seahawk bench, and he drained the three-pointer to put his team back up by seven.
"That was a big shot for him." said Coach Ray Bailey. "He was struggling all night, defensively and offensively. but he kept his head in the game, I put him back in and he hit a big shot for us. "
Carter Kembro sank a pair of free throws in the waning minutes, as did Stephens, and the Seahawks widened their margin as the clock ticked down.
Poloronis finished with 13 points, Carter Kembro with eight, junior Ta'shawn Jones and Ethan Kembro each with seven, and junior Jaidyn Rhodes with one.
"I'm very pleased with our effort the whole game," said Bailey, "We had some lapses on defense where we got a little tired but we had some shooters that kept us in there. But overall, I'm pleased with the effort and how we closed the game out."
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