By Fred Conley
Special to the Democrat-Gazette
JUDSONIA - The Class AA defending state champs Earle Bulldogs stated fast in Saturday's semifinal game against Parkers Chapel and then had to hang on in the second half to advance to the state championship game, for a third straight year.
Led by a combined 43 points from 6-5 junior forward Kevon Smith and senior point guard Travonta Doolittle, the Bulldogs were able to turn back the Trojans 59-45 in a game played at White County Central.
Doolittle put up 22 points for the Bulldogs while Smith added 21.
The Bulldogs will face either Clarendon or Marked Tree in the state championship game next weekend in Hot Springs.
"Not many coaches can say they have been in the state championship game three straight times," Earl coach Billy Murray said. "My players stepped up today. They came to play."
Addressing the cold spell in the third quarter, Murray said it was a matter of losing focus.
"We did and that happens," Murray said. "But we came out of it and it worked out in our favor."
At the foul line, the Bulldogs dropped in 15 of 19 chances.
Behind the three point shooting of Smith, four threes in the opening quarter on four of four shooting and quickness that bit the Trojans on several trips up and down the floor, the Bulldogs led 24-10 to begin the second quarter.
Taking advantage of a cold spell by the Bulldogs, Parker's Chapel put together a 9-0 run to get back in the game after Earl went up 31-12 with 5:29 to play.
The Trojans' run included back to back layups by Canon Morgan a baseline jumper and a three pointers from Nate Garrett-Evans and key rebound and put back basket by Josh Osborn, helping Parker's Chapel go into the half trailing by 12 35-23.
Doolittle took over for Earle in the third quarter as the Bulldogs outscored the Trojans 9 to 8 to keep a 43-32 cushion.
Osborn and Amari Bell connected on baseline layups early in the third as Earle failed to defend.
After a Doolittle spin move in the lane for an easy basket, senior dropped in two free throws. Meanwhile, Smith, who had not touched the ball since the opening quarter, went cold missing four straight three point shots.
"That's just the way we play as a team," Murray said. "It was not by design not to get the ball to Smith. Sometimes, when somebody else gets hot he is the guy who we go with."
Not throwing in the towel, Parker's Chapel kept the pressure on the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter, getting within 10 at 45-35 with more than six minutes to play and cutting Earle's lead to five, 45-40 on consecutive baskets from Dawson Goodwin, a two and a three.
With 2:50 left to play, the Bulldogs, up by seven went into the their five game to run the clock, ending with Doolittle's big two pointer for a 51-42 lead. Leeandrew Milow turned a conventional three point play for the Bulldogs to push the lead to 54-43 as Earle went to a straight man defense for the final minute.
Smith capped the win with four consecutive free throws, his first points since the opening quarter.
Garrett-Evans led the Trojans with 11 points, while Osborn had 10 and Bell finished with eight.