Bulldogs will play for title for first time since 2012
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
MARMADUKE — Late in his team’s 74-54 win against Junction City at Chester Barner Sr. Gym, Earle senior guard Marcus Brown stepped to the free throw line only to be greeted by a chorus of chants of “MVP” by the pro-Earle faithful. Brown, the 2015-2016 2A-3 player of the year, paused for a moment to let the cheers sink in and promptly sank his free throw, sending Bulldog Nation into euphoria. The reason was simple. After a four-year absence, Earle is headed back to Hot Springs to play for a state basketball title. Earle will play district opponent East Poinsett County for the third time this year, this time for the 2016 Class 2A state title on Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Earle won the two regular-season meetings at home (77-68) and in Lepanto (86-58). The heroes were many. Brown was the people’s choice for player of the day after hitting for a game-high 27 points, while fellow senior guard Donte Garrett scored 16 points, including four three-point baskets. Senior postman Treyvon Boyce just missed a double-double as he reeled in nine rebounds and nine points. The Bulldog defense as a team would have to garner a look, as well. Earle held Junction City to a 20 of 52 mark from the field, including just nine made field goals in the first half. That allowed the Bulldogs to lead 41-27 at halftime, after leading 22-15 after the first quarter. Billy Murray, Earle’s head coach, liked his team’s fast start, but wasn’t completely satisfied. “It’s always better to play in front than it is behind,” said Murray, who’s teams have won four state titles, three at Earle. “I thought we could have opened it up before halftime, but we just didn’t do it. We missed some shots that we can hit and we have some fine-tuning to do before we get to Hot Springs.” Earle took a very early ten-point lead when sophomore forward Gerry Bohanon scored on a stickback with 3:36 in the first quarter, and following a Brown stickback, Earle led 32-17, but Junction immediately responded with a quick 7-0 run to get within eight points at 32-24. Earle was up just nine late in the half when Garrett scored the last five points of the frame to get the Bulldogs to the lockers with that 41-27 lead. The pace quickened on both ends of the court in the third period as each school hit nearly half of their shots in the frame, but Earle turned Junction City over seven times in the frame to open up a 59-42 lead entering the fourth quarter. Earle would claim its first 20-point lead of the day when Brown swooped in from the right side of the floor, scored an acrobatic lay-up while drawing a foul and sank the free throw to complete an old-fashioned three-point play for a 70-50 advantage. That play sparked the “MVP” chants for the lanky guard. “I just wanted to do whatever it took to get my team the win,” said Brown after the game. “I love my fans, they motivate me and I want to leave it on the court for them.” Earle will now turn its attention to East Poinsett County on Thursday, and Murray is wary of the suddenly-hot Warriors. “I’m not taking anything for granted because whoever wins between Marked Tree and E.P.C., that’s gonna be a hell of a game,” said Murray, who was interviewed before the second semifinal game had been played and was not aware of his opponent yet. “We know each other and we played each other several times during the year… I don’t want to play either one of them because once you play somebody four and five times during the year, bad things can happen.” Junction City was led by Tyrus Grayson’s 19 points, while Jerrodney Tubbs scored 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Keelan Ford scored nine for the Dragons. Earle will be playing for the eighth state title in the history of the school. The Bulldogs previously won championships in 1974, 1980, 1985, 2000, 2008, 2010 and 2012. The last three titles were won with Murray at the helm. Murray was also the head coach of the 1995 state title-winning Crawfordsville Tigers.