By KEVIN THOMPSON
SATANTA — After six consecutive appearances in the state tournament, it seemed like a fait accompli that the 18-4 South Gray boys would easily make it seven straight with a win over 11-11 Minneola.
The Rebels got the win, 56-45, but it was hardly a given in the finals of the 1A-Div. 2 sub-state finals here Saturday night.
This was the third meeting of the season between the two teams, but veteran coach Mark Applegate knew that the Wildcats were much better than their record indicated.
He was right. The Rebels had to overcome early foul trouble, change its defensive strategy, and come back from a 17-12 second-quarter deficit to get the win.
In other words, Applegate and his team had to use a lot of weapons in their arsenal to advance to state.
A pair of 3's by Storm Mosher and two field goals by Garret Watkins got the Rebels a quick 10-1 lead.
But this was a game of streaky scoring.
Minneola countered with runs of 7-0 and 9-0 to take its 17-12 lead early in the second quarter before the Rebels went on a 10-0 run of their own to take a 22-17 lead with 3:48 to play in the half.
Then the Wildcats grabbed what was to be their final lead at 24-22 with another 7-0 run.
But Trenton Holloway's field goal and 3-pointer along with Caleb Clancy's three gave South Gray a 30-24 lead at the break.
Holloway opened the second half with another field goal to complete an 8-0 Rebel run that gave them a lead they would never relinquish. The closest Minneola would come was 47-40 with three minutes left in the game.
South Gray's defensive plan of playing man-to-man changed early after they were whistled for eight first-quarter fouls and the Wildcats' Brandy Shumate went to the line eight times.
Shumate hit just three of those and the Wildcats finished just 7-of-19 from the line for the game, but the foul situation forced South Gray to play a zone, which proved effective, if not inconvenient.
Watkins, who will be playing in his fourth state tournament, acknowledged that the early foul trouble forced his team to adjust.
"You have to adjust," he said, "and you have to keep playing hard. You can't take off any possessions, and I don't think we did that. You've got to keep your poise and composure no matter what happens and keep playing."
When the Rebels fell behind in the first quarter after getting the big lead, Watkins said they didn't get nervous, just more determined.
"I just wanted to play that much harder and not let them get too far away from us. It would have been hard to get back into it then," he said. "They're better than what their record shows."
Though pleased with the win, Applegate said his team made some poor decisions on defense, hence the fouling.
"We reached too much. Minneola did a lot better job getting after the ball," he said. "They're just like us; they wanted to win."
In the second half, Applegate said, the more typical Rebel team showed up.
"We settled down and ran our offense better. We executed better on offense and defense both," he said.
Holloway led the Rebels with 11 points, and Mosher and Watkins both had 10.
Shumate led the Wildcats with 13, while Woody Patrick and Gary Stewart both had 11.
South Gray won the battle of the boards (36-26), with Watkins leading with 13.
They also led in turnovers (22-19).