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Baker staggered by Enterprise’s press, injury to Williams in regional finals loss

Baker’s Desmond Williams (3) is inadvertently poked in the eye by Enterprise’s Keondre Matthews during the first period of Tuesday’s Class 7A South Regional final at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. The loss of Williams was a key factor in the Hornets’ 69-52 loss. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

Baker’s Derrick Florence drives to the basket against Enterprise’s Malachi Reed Tuesday. Florence scored 21 points. (Helen Joyce/Call News)





MONTGOMERY — Baker’s leading scorer Desmond Williams didn’t see it coming when he got poked in the eye and had to leave the game late in the first period Tuesday but Enterprise’s eyes were wide-open.

With Williams at the hospital with a bulging bandage on his left eye, the Wildcats staggered the No. 6-ranked Hornets with full-court pressure in the third period and went on to a 69-52 win in the Class 7A South Regional finals at Garrett Coliseum.

Baker (26-7) had rallied from a 10-0 deficit without Williams to take a 28-26 halftime lead behind a sudden barrage of three-pointers against Enterprise’s man-to-man defense. Derrick Florence started the comeback by banking a 3 off the glass to end the first period, added another early in the second period, Dashawn Thomas followed by splashing a trio of threes and Lovalle Nelson gave the Hornets their first lead with a turnaround jumper in the lane.

“We made a nice run in the second quarter,” Baker coach David Armstrong said. “We did a great job and got what we wanted.”

But the Wildcats (23-6) — who have won 11 straight games — got what they wanted when they unleashed their full-court press in the third period and went on a 12-1 run that permanently fractured the Hornets’ hopes.

“It hurt to lose him,” Armstrong said of Williams, who was averaging 14 points per game and was the team’s chief ball distributor. “They said his eye was swollen so much he couldn’t get it open. We did everything we could but our key ballhandler not being there, Enterprise recognized our weakness and exploited it. When the pressure came, we didn’t handle it.”

Williams’ mother, Janel Williams, said in a Facebook post her son kept asking for updated scores on the game despite his pain.

“It is hard to have watched your child work their butt off to accomplish some things and it’s over,” she said. “To see the disappointment on his face hurts.”

Armstrong knew he would see the same look on his players’ faces once he got to the locker room.

“We’re good enough to win it at full strength,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to hate going in that locker room.”

Given the fact many people felt Baker would be relegated to an afterthought once star guard Labaron Philon transferred out of state last summer, Armstrong choked up and fought back tears when he pondered what was and what might have been.

“These guys were counted out in June the minute Labaron decided to leave Baker,” Armstrong said. “But we’re right back where we were last year. The guys played their hearts out but Enterprise is very athletic and did a great job.”

Nevertheless, the Hornets suffered a second straight lopsided loss in the South Regional. Last season, they lost to Dothan 72-51 with Philon, who later transferred to Link Academy in Missouri and signed with Kansas.

Thomas and Florence finished with 21 points each for Baker, which made 8 of 22 three-pointers but shot just 38% for the game.

Regional MVP Eric Winters, the Wildcats’ highly recruited junior linebacker, scored 22 points, had 8 rebounds and energized Enterprise’s full-court press, which helped the Wildcats outscore the Hornets 17-7 on points off their 18 turnovers.

Winters inflicted the first wound out of the press by intercepting a crosscourt pass and dunking as part of a three-point play to give Enterprise the lead for good at 37-35 with 3½ minutes left in the third period. Winters scored 10 of the 12 points in the decisive run while Baker withered offensively, turning it over four times and going 3 of 10 from the field until the third period was exhausted.

The Wildcats, who shot 61%, led for 27 of the game’s 32 minutes and by as many as 18 points in the fourth period.

The Hornets, who had won nine straight games coming in, are 82-18 in the last three seasons with a trip to the state tournament.

“I feel like we can beat anyone in the state of Alabama,” Armstrong said. “God decided that wasn’t it today.”

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