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Decatur falls in 3A South Regional finals to Westlake

(March 14, 2014) The Stephen Decatur boys’ basketball team’s season ended with a 66-51 loss to the Westlake Wolverines in the MPSSAA 3A South Regional tournament championship game last Friday in Waldorf.

“They gave 110 percent, we just ran out of gas. We played three games in three days,” said Decatur Coach Byron “BJ” Johnson. “I think the boys were tired. We played two games, then we had a long bus ride to the game (against Westlake). It’s definitely an advantage playing at home. It gives you that extra energy.”

The Seahawks, the No. 1 seed in Section I of the 3A South Region, were a little sluggish in the first half, Johnson said. Fifteen turnovers also didn’t help the Seahawks’ cause.

At the end of the first quarter, Westlake, the top-seeded squad in Section II of the 3A South Region, led 17-11. The Wolverines went into the halftime break on top 28-22.

The visiting Seahawks went on a 6-0 run to start the third quarter, tying the score 28-28, but Westlake answered, pulling ahead 34-28.

After three quarters, the home team held a 47-34 advantage.

“They went on a run and we weren’t able to recover,” Johnson said. “The kids never quit. I was so proud of them.”

Junior Randy DuPont was Decatur’s top producer with 16 points and four rebounds. Colen Gaynor, a junior, added 10 points and three rebounds and senior captain Tyler Hunter had nine points.

Decatur advanced to the regional championship after defeating the second-seeded James M. Bennett Clippers 79-70 the night before in Berlin in front of a packed house.

The Seahawks fed off the home crowd’s energy last Thursday and led 18-6 at the end of the first quarter. Decatur went into the halftime break ahead 40-20.

The momentum was in the Seahawks’ favor in the third quarter. The players looked confident, everything was clicking and flowing smoothly. After three quarters, the Seahawks boosted their advantage to 32 points (65-33).

The Decatur squad began to struggle in the fourth quarter and Bennett chipped away at the home team’s lead. The Clippers’ press was also effective as they converted several key defensive plays into points.

After leading by 32 points, Decatur only held a five-point advantage (75-70) with about 57 seconds remaining in the game. The Seahawks were able to fend off the Clippers and win by nine.

“We only play six or seven. Bennett didn’t quit. They came at us and luckily we had a large enough lead that we were able to hold on,” Johnson said. “I think if we made free throws it would have been a different story, but it’s been our achilles heel all year long. We always factor that in. We’re not a good free-throw shooting team.”

Decatur hit 15 of 32 foul shots during the game (47 percent). In the fourth quarter alone, the Seahawks missed 10 out of 18 shots.

Hunter led Decatur with 29 points and 16 rebounds. Gaynor tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Sophomore Torrey Brittingham chipped in with 15 points and 10 assists.

After a 4-4 start, Decatur finished the season 18-6. The Seahawks competed in the Bayside Conference title game for the first time in program history. They lost 64-61 in overtime to Easton.

Johnson said this year’s squad was one of the best he’s coached. He referred to the group as the “Magnificent eight.”

The boys played for each other, which is one of the reasons they accomplished so much, he said.

This was Johnson’s first season as head coach of the Seahawks. He was an assistant under Mark Engle two seasons prior. He has more than 26 years coaching experience, with a number of those years leading local teams.

“It was an awesome season with a capital ‘A,’” Johnson said. “This team set the bar high for next year.”

The team motto this year was “keep climbing” and they did “without a doubt,” Johnson said.

Several players received All-Bayside Conference awards. Hunter earned First Team accolades. Gaynor was named to the Second Team and senior PJ Copes, DuPont and Brittingham were presented with Honorable Mention awards.

Johnson was named Coach of the Year.

“It’s a great honor and I appreciate it, but the accolades go to the kids,” he said.

Johnson wants to thank the community for supporting the team this year.

“The community rallied behind these kids,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere to be a part of. I’m blessed to be a coach at Stephen Decatur.”

Johnson will lose four seniors to graduation. The success the team has next year will depend on the veterans returning and newcomers’ effort in the off-season, he said.

“We’ve provided opportunities for them to work to get better. Players are made in the off-season,” Johnson said. “They need to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Stephen Decatur senior captain Tyler Hunter dunks the ball during last Thursday’s 3A South Region Section I finals against James M. Bennett in Berlin.

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