Bradford (Starke) entered Friday night’s 1A-District 6 championship game with two goals – use its athleticism to outrun Bell and attempt to contain Bulldogs’ center Daniel Pittman.
The Tornadoes (12-10) took the lead midway through the first quarter and held Bell (15-12) at bay most of the contest, only to survive a late Bulldogs charge when Braeden Manders hit a layup to pull Bell within 51-47 with 1:05 left. But Bradford’s Amari Jones hit a pair of free throws and Dae’jon Shanks and Jontez Williams added a free throw each to seal 55-49 win.
Bradford’s full-court defensive pressure forced Bell turnovers that led to quick baskets and took an 8-6 lead after the first quarter and built it to 22-11 halfway through the second.
“That was our game plan and that’s been our MO this year is just real in your face play defense, speed you up,” said Bradford coach Sampson Jackson. “We have a bunch of athletes, so we have guys who can make plays in space.”
The Tornadoes needed those points as Bell countered with its offensive weapon in Pittman, a big man who could score in a variety of ways. When it looked like Bradford would start to run away with the game, Pittman stepped up in the second quarter scoring 13 points including a 3-pointer and going 6-for-7 at the free throw line.
“Coming into this game, that was our game plan to make sure we limit his [Pittman’s] touches,” Jackson said. “He is a factor no matter where he’s at.”
Bradford countered Pittman with their own big man in Robbie Simmons, who scored nine points in the second quarter. Shanks added two 3-pointers and Shayne Davis added five points in the frame as the Tornadoes outscored Bell 24-17 in the frame to take a 32-23 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs came out fast in the third quarter scoring the first four points to get within 32-27, but Bradford responded on a 13-9 run to close the quarter ahead 45-36 going into the fourth.
“We missed some open shots,” said Bell coach Charles Mehl. “We make a couple of those 3s, it may be a different story. We didn’t have a great shooting night, but shot well from the foul line, got the ball inside.
“I think a couple turnovers that they transitioned a basket into it, that’s what they live off of,” he added. “We tried to make it a half-court game best we could, but they’re pretty athletic so that’s what took over a little bit.”
Jones and Simmons led Bradford with 13 points each. Davis scored 11 points and Shanks had 10.
Kaden Carder scored five points for Bell and Manders and Justin Grubbs added four points each.
District championship games – Friday, Feb. 11
Class 6A-District 3
No. 1 Fleming Island (Orange Park) 75, No. 3 Gainesville 57
Class 4A-District 4
Class 3A-District 2
No. 1 Providence (Jacksonville) 44, No. 3 P.K. Yonge (Gainesville) 43
Class 2A-District 4
No. 1 St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) 52, No. 3 Oak Hall (Gainesville) 14
Class 1A-District 7
No. 3 Trenton 65, No. 1 Newberry 57