Jaguars hold off tough East Carteret push to advance to fourth round

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Rocky Mount Prep's Kalil Baker celebrates during the final seconds of the Jaguars' NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs third round win over East Carteret at Rocky Mount Prep.


Sports Writer

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Kalil Baker knew. 

The Rocky Mount Prep guard buried a 3-pointer from the corner to cap a third-quarter run, forcing opponent East Carteret to call a timeout as Baker twirled toward the crowd holding up three fingers. It was during the frenzy that followed that Baker knew his team would hang on.

“We knew after that stretch that we were going to win the game,” Baker said. “We knew we were going to be all right, offensively and defensively.”

The top-seeded Jaguars were indeed able to hold off a pesky and talented East Carteret team for a 63-56 victory on Saturday in the third round of the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs. The game was competitive throughout, as the result was just the second time this season that the Jaguars won by single digits. The team earned its other 22 victories by at least 10 points, some by as many as 40.

The Jaguars (24-0) will host a fourth-round game on Tuesday against No. 5 Durham Voyager Academy, a 74-52 winner over Edenton Holmes.

RMP quickly realized that this game wouldn’t be like the others. A Trevor Batchelor 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer gave the Jaguars some breathing room, an 11-9 lead, as they pulled ahead after an opening quarter where nothing came easy.

The Mariners, the No. 8 seed, hung around and tied the score at 22-22 with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter, only to watch as the Jaguars closed the first half on a 5-0 run.

Much like their second-round win on Thursday, the Jaguars turned in a strong third quarter, but this time couldn’t hang on to several leads that soared to as many as 12 points. Part of the problem was that Baker, who finished with 18 points, was in foul trouble early in the third quarter. That allowed East Carteret players Jashawn Embry (10 points) and Maceo Donald (game-high 19 points) to slash into the lane for quick buckets.

Baker picked up his third and fourth fouls with 4:56 remaining in the quarter, though coach Jolly Manning didn’t take the senior out of the game. Baker never left the floor, and played the final 12 minutes, 56 seconds with the knowledge that one more foul would lead to his exit.

“I had to be more conservative on the defensive end,” Baker said. “I had to pick and choose when to go for steals, and had to not reach.”

Added Manning: “He’s a smart kid. He knows when to go get the basketball, and when to reach and when not to reach. He’s a smart kid.”

The decision worked, as Baker scored 10 points after picking up his fourth foul, including making the corner 3 that punctuated an 8-0 run with 2:39 left in the third quarter. Sam Benton opened the run with a breakaway layup, then Baker assisted on a Keyshawn Bryant 3-pointer, only to have Bryant return the favor with an assist on Baker’s 3.

“We believe we’re the best team in the state,” Baker said. “We have the confidence down the stretch that we can play with and beat anybody.”

The Jaguars opened up their largest lead of the game at 40-28 after the run. But the Mariners (15-11) would storm back and draw within 59-56 with 39.2 seconds remaining. Batchelor, Baker and Bryant all made free throws in the final minutes to secure the win.

“The game was pretty close so we had to do what we do,” Solomon said. “We handled it pretty well, actually better than I thought we would. We stayed strong and just kept playing.”

Bryant scored 18 points, with Batchelor (11) and Solomon (10) finishing in double figures. Benton added six points.