Just as Tate was beginning to close the gap against Navarre Tuesday night in a District 1-7A tournament semifinal game, the Raiders responded.
Their lead had been trimmed to seven early in the third quarter but three consecutive 3-pointers, including two by Demetre Page, helped Navarre regain momentum en route to a 62-48 win over the Aggies at Fryman Gymnasium.
Navarre now heads to the district championship game against top-seeded Niceville at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tate. The Raiders are assured of a berth in the regional tourney for the first time since 2002 no matter how the game plays out.
“I had a rough first half but I was focused on playing better in the second half,” said Page, one of seven seniors on the Navarre roster. “I was able to hit some big shots to help the team.”
Page finished the night with 13 points and Quinton Wylie, who hit the other trey during the third-quarter outburst, led the Raiders (17-9) with 16 points.
Those two were part of a balanced attack that helped Navarre extend its season for one more day. Marcus Richardson came through with 11 points, Dominic Riddle scored 9 points and Juwan Bracey put 8 points in the scorebook.
“We have different guys that step up each night,” Navarre head coach Taf Bentley said. “I’m so proud of the guys. We want to continue to be the best team we can be.”
Bentley had an indication last spring that this Navarre team would find a way to have success.
“They got together in my classroom last spring and said we are going to find a way to play for the (district championship),” Bentley said. “For them to go out and do it and have success after all of the hard work, I’m so happy for them.”
Page got the Raiders started with a 3-pointer a minute into the game and Navarre ended the first with an 11-6 lead.
The Raiders stayed a few steps ahead of the Aggies in the second and closed the half with momentum. Dominic Riddle and Jaxson Aldrich both hit outside shots to stretch Navarre’s lead to 28-14 before Wylie pulled up just in front of the half-court line and nailed a trey at the buzzer for a 31-17 advantage.
The Raiders led 41-32 at the end of the third but Tate got as close as 49-43 with 3:25 to play. Two free throws by Bracey and a layup by Tre Baker helped Navarre pull away for good.
“We went through a tough stretch in the fourth where it could have easily gone the other way,” Bentley said. “We’ve faced adversity all year and it can make or break you. Tonight, it made us.”
And now comes the challenge of taking on the Eagles, a perennial power. Niceville won both games against Navarre in the regular season.
“It’s a great feeling to be moving on,” Page said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play for the championship.”\
Read more in the Feb. 11 edition of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.