CRESTVIEW — It was a tough start to District 2-6A play for the Crestview boys basketball team Friday night.
The Bulldogs played well enough in the first half to lead visiting Niceville 25-20 at the half. But things came unraveled in the third quarter for the home team as the Eagles turned the tables on the Bulldogs.
Trailing by 12 points with two minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs cut the Eagle lead to four, but in the end Niceville took a 59-55 win.
“It was a good effort overall,” Bulldog coach Ken Meisner said. “I know nobody likes to lose, but when you look at the scorebook, that third quarter we got outscored 18-8, and really, that was the game.
“You come out at half time and you’re not ready to go things happen.”
Meisner went on to say he thought the Bulldogs were ready to start the second half, but when post player Denzel Ware was whistled for a quick foul and had to return to the bench it took some steam out of the team.
For a while it looked as if it was going to be Crestview’s night.
Both teams were sluggish in the first quarter. Nick Morken of the Eagles scored first, but a 3-point basket by Roman Donofro gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
At the end of the first quarter Niceville (3-4, 1-0) led 6-5.
But the Bulldogs (2-5, 0-1) were just about to get untracked.
Clay Hancock came out smoking for Crestview in the second quarter scoring eight of his 11 points as the Bulldogs surged to a 25-20 lead at the half.
But the Bulldogs were unable to maintain the momentum when they returned from the locker room after the break.
The teams traded baskets with Morken scoring on a 2-pointer and Ronnie Baylark hitting a 3-pointer for Crestview to open the second half as the Bulldogs extended the lead to 28-22.
Kolt Drantz scored for Niceville with 4:44 left in the third quarter to give the Eagles their first lead since early in the second period.
Niceville led 35-33 with 1:20 left in the third quarter when the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game with a three-on-one fast break. Rather than go for the easy layup, Baylark tried for a dunk and missed. Niceville got the rebound and Terrance Jones hit a 3-pointer to put the Eagles up 38-33.
The Jones basket sparked an 11-0 run that extended well into the fourth quarter.
A Nicholas Haynes free throw with two minutes left in the game extended the Niceville lead to 49-37.
Crestview fought back in the final two minutes as the teams traded free throws, but the lead was too large for the Bulldogs to overcome as Niceville pulled out the win.
“I think at the beginning of the third quarter we picked up our intensity,” Niceville coach Jerome Strutchen said. “Our subs came in and our bench came in and produced. I think that’s what really got us started and then the bench got excited.
“We took a hard loss to Pensacola Catholic last night and for these guys to come out and respond the way the did and to be 1-0 in district is huge for us.”
Meisner continues to find the positives in tough losses.
“I think our effort was great,” he said. “I hope these fans that came out and watched realized they got to see to hard teams going at it. Both teams are a little down and a little young.
“Coach Strutchen had his team ready to go. And it came down to execution and that’s what they did to win the game.”
Baylark led all scorers with 16 points. Hancock joined him in double figures with 11 points.
Brandon Mosley topped the Eagles with 11 points and Morken had 10 points.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524