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Rocky Mount Prep ousts Voyager Academy for a spot in 1-A final four

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Rocky Mount Prep's Kalil Baker yells in celebration after teammate Keyshawn Bryant was fouled while making a basket Tuesday during the NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs fourth round game against Durham Voyager Academy at Rocky Mount Prep.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

An unfamiliar feeling lingered in the Rocky Mount Prep gym, like an invisible intruder had sleuthed in and lifted the soul from its creaky foundation. The crowd hadn’t lost its mind for at least a quarter’s worth of play. The small opponent cheering section was gaining momentum, more confident by the basket.

The Jaguars, 24-0 entering the fourth round of the 1-A NCHSAA tournament against Durham Voyager Academy, were losing; being outplayed soundly.

Then came Kalil Baker to make it all right, his team down four points with 4:18 left in the third quarter.

First, an uncontested 3-pointer from the top of the key, then a crossover and a drive to the hoop.

Finally, the kicker: A stop-on-a-dime pullup 3-pointer from the left wing that would have made any professional scorer proud.

“I guess it was a heat check,” Baker mused.

With that, the gym’s soul was back and so was the lead in a 75-62 victory that sent the undefeated Jaguars (25-0) into the final four of the 1-A state tournament. They'll play Pamlico County on Saturday, which beat Granville Central on Tuesday, 60-59.

Baker ended with 24 points, with 12 in a third quarter that also included a message from his coach right before that four-point deficit faded with his jumpshot.

“I got in his ear, man, told him he had to take over,” coach Jolly Manning said. “He’s a take over type of kid. He keeps his poise. Always.

“He had a college basketball game in middle school. It’s hard to find a kid who’s poised like that.”

The Jaguars, playing against perhaps their most formidable opponent all season in the No. 5 seed Vikings, led by four points going into halftime, but a quick 6-0 run to begin the third quarter switched that.

After Baker’s personal 8-0 run, the Vikings still managed to hang around, pulling within four points to begin the fourth. Behind nine points from DVA’s Jordan Love in the final quarter, they hung around still within four until the four minute mark of the game.

But an and-one by Sam Benton on a perfectly placed floater pushed it to seven, the largest of the game, and RMP made 10 of 14 free throws in the final 2:20 of the game for the deceiving 13-point victory.

“Coach always tells us to be quiet and humble, don’t over-hype anything,” said Trevor Batchelor, who scored 14, including eight in a slow-moving first quarter. “Don’t think about losing, just keep playing ball. We rose to the occasion.”

A point in front of Baker was Keyshawn Bryant, who finished with a game-high 25. Benton finished with eight and Toyaz Solomon finished with four points to round out a starting five that played the entire game without substitution.

Love led the way with 17 points for a Vikings team that found most of its success on the offensive glass, scoring 12 second-chance points on the Jaguars interior defense and taking 16 more shots than RMP. Blake Buchanan added 16 and Michael Boadu had 14 points, but none of it was enough to foil another stellar tag-team game for Bryant and Baker.

“I just didn’t want to lose,” Baker said. “I didn’t want this game to be our last.”

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