By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 23, 2012 1:48 PM
Rosewood stepped on the gas and county rival Spring Creek almost became a tiny speck in its rear-view mirror Wednesday evening.
But the Gators nearly caught up to the Eagles.
Dee Mabry, Matt Shaw and Joel Davis each swished key free throws in the final 90 seconds and Rosewood escaped 68-57 in second-round action of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A boys' basketball playoffs.
The eighth-seeded Eagles (13-10 overall) play host to state-ranked Rocky Mount Prep on Friday. Tip-off is 7 p.m. and the winner earns a berth in the eastern regional in Fayetteville.
Each team played to its strengths at different times.
Rosewood's guards accelerated the tempo in the second quarter and spearheaded a 35-8 run. Dee Mabry delivered 13 of his team-leading 21 points during that stretch and Bret Robinson drained two triples of his own to give the Eagles a 40-20 lead at halftime.
"All the shots they missed in the first quarter, they made in the second quarter," Gators head coach Taylor Jones said. "And you have to give them credit for making the shots. We didn't rotate well at all ... were stagnant (on defense) after the first quarter.
"(The run) knocked us back a little bit and we went into a shell."
Spring Creek (11-13) revved up its aggressive motor in the second half.
The Gators made adjustments against the Eagles' pressure defense, worked the ball consistently into the front court and got their two big men -- Rashawn Edwards and Adam Haggerty -- into the game offensively.
The duo accounted for the team's 21 third-quarter points. Edwards tallied a game-high 24 points, while Haggerty chipped in 23.
"(Rashawn and Adam) got a lot of touches, got a lot of points in the paint (in the second half)," said Rosewood head coach Daniel Mitchell. "It's hard to keep them two, especially 23 (Edwards) off the backboards. With the two big guys, they're a matchup nightmare for teams.
"I thought we played hard."
Haggerty's free throw and Edwards' offensive putback trimmed the deficit to 56-49 with 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation. Robinson hit the back end of a two-shot foul and Haggerty's off-balanced 3-point bank shot further closed the gap to 57-52.
The Gators stayed within two possessions and constantly fouled the Eagles, who converted just 4 of their first 11 free throws early in the quarter. But Mabry, Shaw, Davis and Will Winslow (who drew three charges on defense) shut the door at the stripe and put Rosewood into a sectional championship game for the second straight year and just the third time overall since 1974.
Rosewood shot 24 of 36 at the line compared to 9 of 13 for Spring Creek.
"We struggled with free throws in the fourth quarter until right at the end when we were able to get the ball into some guys' hands who were able to knock down some at the line," Mitchell said. "We did a fairly good job of withstanding the run and keeping our composure to be able to keep the lead."
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