VALDOSTA –– The Valdosta Wildcats continued their hot streak with an 89-62 win against the Houston County Bears Wednesday night.
With the win, the 'Cats advance to face the Lee County Trojans in Friday's Region 1-6A Championship game.
The 'Cats took control of the game with a 30-point second quarter, as they led 42-23 at the half and 67-47 at the end of three quarters.
"That second quarter, we look at it from a defensive standpoint," Valdosta head coach Darrell Lockhart said. "I think we can score against anybody once we start taking the shots, but I think the defense was pretty good that quarter. We held them down and we were able to get some buckets to build that lead. It's just a strategy of mine, but we try to wear people out and in the fourth quarter, we usually succeed."
After picking up a non-region sweep against rival Lowndes last week, Lockhart spoke of the upcoming matchup against Bears star guard HB Morgan.
Morgan, who sank the 'Cats on their home floor with a buzzer-beating 3 last February, scored 12 points in the first matchup against Valdosta this season.
On Wednesday, Morgan was the only Bear with a hot hand –– scoring a game-high 24 points with 15 coming on five 3-point hits.
Though Morgan made several tough shots, Lockhart felt his team did a good job wearing him down as the game went on.
"He was worn out," Lockhart said of Morgan. "We made him work. If he's going to hit shots like that, then he can have them, but more importantly, nobody else scored a lot of points so that's another strategy we use. Make him work for his and play everybody else."
Junior Aaron Williams paced the 'Cats with 15 points, knocking down three triples in the game.
Williams hit back to back 3s followed by a buzzer-beating 3 from Stanley Haliburton to cap the 'Cats big second-quarter surge as they outscored the Bears 30-14 in the period.
Williams, the team's second-leading 3-point shooter, has proven himself to be a solid source of scoring off the bench this season.
"This young man, he hit some big shots for us," Lockhart said of Williams after the game. "I wasn't expecting him to be able to shoot like that, but he's proven to be a good shooter and that's a big plus for us."
A tip-in by junior center Byron Franklin gave Valdosta its largest lead of 29 late in the fourth quarter.
Haliburton added 14 points, while fellow senior Dorrien Douglas and freshman Kylan Fox added 12 points apiece in the game. Junior forward Jacarrius Peak added 11 points as the 'Cats won their sixth straight game.
Jaylon Hatcher and Daniel Lamonte each scored 10 points for the Bears in the loss.
TOO MUCH SAUCE
Following a pair of free throws by Hatcher, Haliburton got the ball on the fast break and soared for an emphatic tomahawk jam to ignite the crowd. The dunk put the 'Cats ahead 54-30 with 4:24 left in the third quarter, but Haliburton was assessed a technical foul for taunting after celebrating the play.
The 'Cats will go for their second straight Region 1-6A championship Friday night against Lee County. The two teams split the regular season series as the Trojans beat the 'Cats 62-58 on Jan. 16 followed by the 'Cats exacting revenge with a 72-49 rout on Jan. 30.
After a sluggish first quarter on Wednesday, Lockhart wants to see his team come out with more energy against the Trojans.
"We've got to play defense," Lockhart said of the upcoming title game. "We can't start out like we did tonight. We've got to start a little bit more livelier. The defense has found it, but we've got to be able to play offense."