After losing in the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons, the Stone High boys basketball team is looking more and more like a squad built for the long run.
The Tomcats took one more significant step toward claiming the No. 1 seed in Region 8-5A, closing out a 45-35 victory at Gautier Friday night.
It’s been a different star each game for the Tomcats and Friday night proved to be senior guard Caleb Chandler’s time to shine.
All 12 of his team-high points came in the second quarter as he hit four 3-pointers to help break Gautier’s zone defense and give the Tomcats a 24-16 advantage at halftime.
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Chandler entered the game as the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 8.2 points a game.
“I’m the shooter,” Chandler said. “I just shoot it when I’m open.”
Gautier’s late rally fell short as Stone picked up its seventh consecutive victory to improve to 17-3 overall and 3-0 in region play.
“The goal was to have a 20-win season,” Stone High coach Todd Miller said. “These guys want to get to the second round of the playoffs so bad. We keep losing in the first round. It’s really important to these guys, but it’s a long journey. We’re just halfway through division and we have to play these guys again. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”
Nine different players scored for the Tomcats Friday night and that’s nothing unusual for a team that consistently plays 10 or 11 guys each night.
“It’s everybody, from the frontcourt to the backcourt to the water boys, everybody,” Chandler said. “It’s the coaches, everybody.”
Stone High, which is ranked No. 5 by the Sun Herald, has clinched its first winning season since 2009-10 and it’s gotten to this point thanks to a group of players who know their roles and are willing to ride the hot hand each night.
“It seems we have a different leading scorer every night,” Miller said. “We’ve got an older group with juniors and seniors. It seems like somebody different steps up each night. It makes it hard to scout.”
Six-foot-2 junior Cameron McDonald was the only other Stone High to score in double digits with 10 points.
Junior point guard Dalan Breland has been Stone High’s leading scorer this season, averaging 11 points and 3.9 assists, but he managed just four points Friday night and happily deferred to his teammates against Gautier’s difficult zone scheme.
A basket by Tyranne Poole cut the Stone lead to 37-33 with 3:21 remaining, but the Gators could only manage one more bucket the rest of the way.
Gautier, which dropped to 12-8 overall and 1-2 in region competition, was led by Demetris Watson’s 12 points.
“We got lazy on our close-outs,” Gautier coach Keith McQueen said. “We played probably the poorest defense we’ve played all year. It was just lazy close-outs – walk-ins and high close-outs.
“Really the game was lost when we refused to run our offense in the first half when we got up on them.”
Gautier girls 46, Stone High 33: The Lady Gators improved to 9-12 overall and, more importantly, 3-0 in Region 8-5A with a win at home Friday night.
Aliyah Kline scored 11 points in the second quarter on her way to an 18-point night for Gautier.
Gautier scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead, but Stone High managed its own run to cut the lead to 30-27 headed into the fourth period.
Stone’s Jaleah Armstrong scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, but it was all Gautier from that point forward as Callie Cowan scored six of her 12 points in the fourth.
Armstrong led Stone High (13-7, 0-3) with 12 points.