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Wildcats hold off Salem comeback
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It was the same tune, but a different verse Monday night for the Salem Seminoles varsity basketball team, as once again a comeback bid fell short in region competition against Apalachee.

Salem drained a trio of 3-pointers in the final 45 seconds against the Wildcats in a fourth-quarter flurry that saw the Seminoles turn a 40-33 halftime deficit into a two-point fourth quarter lead, but in the end, the Wildcats hit the right shots at the right time, outlasting Salem 74-70.

The loss drops to 6-18 overall and 3-12 in Region 8-AAAAA, while Apalachee held onto its second place ranking in the region, moving to 11-3 in league action.

Austin Samuel led the Seminoles with 22 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, but Apalachee’s Kamar Baldwin and Kent Knowles combined for 43 of the Wildcats’ 74 points, including 14 in the first quarter from Baldwin.

“We’ve been playing better, but we’re missing assignments here and there that are hurting us at the end of games,” Salem coach Noah Harrell said. “That’s the frustrating thing. We’re at the end of the season and we’re missing out on the simple things – missing assignments or leaving shooters open – the simple things are still hurting us and they shouldn’t be at this point.”

Trailing 70-61 with 1:20 left in the game, Salem’s Kristopher Bridgeman hit an open 3-pointer from the right corner with 45 second to go, the first of three during the final minute for Salem, bringing the home team to within two possessions of the Wildcats.

An Apalachee turnover on the Wildcats’ next possession eventually found the hands of Michael Green, who converted the turnover into three points with a jumper at the top of the key.

Salem forced a jump ball on the ensuing possession, but Apalachee retained possession. The Wildcats regained their composure after a timeout, pushing their lead back to two possessions on a layup from Alantae Billings.

Billings’ basket put the Wildcats ahead 72-67 and a pair Knowles free throws pushed Apalachee’s advantage to 74-67 with 11 seconds to go, a lead the Wildcats thought was safe as time was set to expire.

Salem, however, had one final push, as Samuel hit the Seminoles’ final triple from the right corner with three seconds to go to trim the lead by four.

This time, Apalachee got in the bounds pass in cleanly, denying the Seminoles a late turnover attempt for the 74-70 victory.

“They made a run every time we tried to come back,” Harrell said. “We know we are going to give up some 3-pointer with the 2-3 zone that we play, but our belief is that we’re longer and more athletic than other teams and we should be able to get more rebounds and challenge more shots than them. We did that at times tonight, but not in long enough stretches.”

While Salem held its own on the glass, the Seminoles trailed 52-50 entering the fourth quarter.

Salem battled back to take a 56-52 lead behind a Samuel basket and back-to-back scores from Quintavious Byrd, but the Wildcats hung around, tying the game at 56-56 on a Baldwin coast-to-coast layup.

Baldwin had been held in check after his first-quarter outburst and was held scoreless in the second and third quarters, but got back in the stat sheet with consecutive scores to even the contest.

A Knowles 3-pointer, one of nine for the Wildcats during the game, and a Baldwin free throw extended Apalachee’s lead to three, but a Robert Baker drive and layup trimmed the Wildcats’ advantage to 60-59 with 3:38 to go.

Bakers’ basket was the closest the Seminoles would get in the final three minutes, as Apalachee went on a 10-2 run before Salem’s late comeback attempt.

Apalachee led by seven entering the third quarter, but three consecutive baskets by the Seminoles’ Demyon Greenwood cut the Wildcats lead to 45-44. 

Greenwood had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line after his third basket of the quarter, but his shot missed, allowing Joey German a 3-point opportunity on the Wildcats’ next possession. German sank the shot, helping Apalachee hold on to a 52-50 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

Apalachee overcame six turnovers in the second quarter to build its lead to as much as 10 in the opening half, taking a 28-18 advantage on a Shane Burnett layup. Salem answered with a 13-2 run to take a 31-30 lead on a Greenwood rebound and putback with 3:15 left to go in the half.

German hit a pair of 3-pointers in the waning minutes of the period, pushing the Wildcats ahead 40-33 at halftime.

Samuel hit the Seminoles first two shots of the first quarter, giving Salem an early 5-0 lead, but Baldwin couldn’t be contained in the opening period, scoring nine of Apalachee’s first 12 points. The Wildcats doubled up Salem 14-7 on a Billings layup. Salem trailed 24-18 after the first quarter, as Apalachee connected on three 3-pointers during the first eight minutes of play.

Bridgeman and Greenwood both joined Samuel in double figures, finishing with 14 and 10 points, respectively.

Baldwin recorded a game-high 23 points in the win, while Knowles finished with 20.

Salem returns to action Friday at home against Flowery Branch on Senior Night beginning at 6 p.m.