CRESTVIEW — On a night the Crestview High School boys basketball team was at its worst the Bulldogs still found a way beat District 1-7A rival Niceville High School on Friday.
Crestview shook off a sluggish second quarter and came on sstrong in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles 54-42 to wrap up the top seed in the District 1-7A tournament that starts Feb. 4 at Fort Walton Beach.
As is often the case in sports, Crestview’s best offense was a strong defense. Or, at least it was the defense that jump-started the Bulldog offense in the fourth quarter.
Crestview (18-4) trailed Niceville 36-31 one minute into the fourth quarter. But a steal and a Ronnie Baylark dunk brought the home crowd to life and sparked an 18-1 Bulldog run that allowed Crestview to take control of the game.
“I felt like our press gave them trouble there at the end,” Bulldog coach Greg Watson said. “We usually like to mix it up (on defense). We are pretty good in the half court, but when we are going kind of up tempo, I think that kind of fits our players better.
“From about the five minute mark on in the fourth quarter I felt like we really played well and it kind of showed our senior leadership.”
Baylark and fellow senior Jerry Aaron led Crestview’s late charge as they teamed up to score 16 of Crestview’s 23 points in the fourth quarter. Aaron and Baylark scored eight points each during the Bulldog surge.
Aaron’s fourth quarter was simply an exclamation mark on what had been a dominant performance in which he scored a game-high 10 points.
The 6-foot-3, 220 pound post player proved to be more than the Eagles could handle from the outset.
“I just took up strong, went in and got the fouls,” Aaron said in describing his big game.
Aaron got off to a fast start scoring 10 first-quarter points.
Niceville’s Jeff Toney was almost as impressive scoring eight points in the first quarter as the teams were tied 17-17 at the end of well-played first period.
Things got ugly in the second quarter in what was probably the worst eight minutes of offense the Bulldogs played all year. Crestview managed just two field goals, one from Denzel Ware and the other from Wesley St. Vil.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs the Eagles weren’t much better in the second quarter scoring nine points to lead 26-21 at the half.
Although the Bulldogs trailed at the half it seemed as if it were only a matter of time before the ball bounced in Crestview’s favor.
Baylark, Crestview’s leading scorer, had yet to hit a basket as the teams took the court to start the third quarter.
Baylark hit a 3-point basket to open the third quarter to serve notice he wouldn’t be denied.
“I was concerned a little bit (about not scoring in the first half)” Baylark said, “but when you’re a shooter you always feel like the next one is going in.”
Baylark scored eight in the third quarter to go with eight in the fourth quarter to finish the night with 16 points and help lead the Bulldogs to the win.
Baylark was glad the Bulldogs claimed the top spot in the district, but he was thinking ahead to bigger things.
“It’s important,” he said. “It gives us some confidence that we have played hard through the season and earned the No. 1. But we’ve got big goals now and that’s not our ultimate goal.”
Aaron said the No. 1 seed is meaningless if the Bulldogs don’t close the season strong.
“We can’t let this get to us (get the big head),” he said. “We just have to play hard.
“One win don’t mean nothing unless we get that championship.”
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Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.