BAKER — Baker School's boys basketball team, up by 13 points with less than a minute left in the third quarter, couldn't hold off a hard-charging Rocky Bayou Christian squad Tuesday night.
The Knights outscored the Gators by 15 points in the final eight minutes and 11 seconds of play, beating Baker 53-51 in both teams' season opener.
Pressure defense helped propel Rocky Bayou to the late surge on points that came off Gator turnovers.
Casey Ponder benefited from many of those Knight points, scoring eight of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"I'm disappointed in the loss, but I'm optimistic about what we can do when we come together," Gator Coach Mike Martello said. "We are running a press break that some of the newer guys aren't yet familiar with it. We made some mental errors too.
"I think that was a sign of our inexperience, as well as not handling the press."
Rocky Bayou took the first lead on a Chris Matthews score 90 seconds in to the game. Baker's Justin Morgan tied things up with six minutes left in the opening stanza as the team jockeyed back and forth for the lead.
An Austin Hicks 3-pointer with 1:16 left in the first quarter gave the Gators a lead they held until the 5:09 mark in the fourth quarter, when Ponder converted on a 3-point play, putting the Knights up 42-40.
The Gators (0-1) tied the game at 43-43 on a pair of Austin Martin free throws with 3:50 left to play, but they were never able to regain the lead down the stretch.
Baker suffered a big setback late in the third quarter, when Morgan, the leading Gator scorer, took a hard spill going up to make a defensive play.
Morgan stayed on the floor for several minutes before going to the bench, but he never returned to the game.
With Morgan sidelined, the Gators were held to only two field goals in the fourth quarter, as Baker's offense slowed to a virtual halt. Many of the Gator problems were due to their inability to handle the Knights' pressure defense.
Hicks and Martin's free-throw shooting kept the Gators within striking distance, but striking distance wasn't close enough with Martin on the bench.
Hicks and Morgan each scored 13 points, leading the Gators in scoring. Austin Walters scored nine points, Martin eight points and Wilder Kersey scored seven points for the Gators.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.