No stranger to pressure after surviving its quarterfinal dogfight Friday night, Doss once again faced a nip-and-tuck fourth quarter. Doss took just its second lead of the game with 1:47 to go and held on for a 70-63 victory in the semifinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen to set up a championship bout against Paul Dunbar on Sunday.
The 13th Region champion Cardinals jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter as Doss struggled to solve their zone defense. South Laurel big man Caleb Taylor shut off the paint while his backcourt mates swarmed the Dragons’ guards on the perimeter.
Taylor, a 6-foot-8 center with quickness that belies his size, gave the Dragons fits in the first half. After Doss pulled within three in the second quarter on a jumper by Stephon Franklin, Taylor swatted a shot, pulled down three rebounds and scored six points down the stretch to give the Cardinals a 35-29 halftime lead.
But the 6th Region champions heated up in the third quarter after Taylor got into foul trouble. Back-to-back threes from Kenyi Bryant and Nick Anderson gave Doss its first lead of the game at 42-39, prompting a timeout from South Laurel head coach Jeff Davis.
Taylor answered by coming out of a crowd with a defensive rebound and throwing a long outlet pass to Ryan Anders, who found Jared Grubb for a three from the wing and South Laurel regained the lead at 43-42. Grubb led the Cardinals with 22 points, hitting six of his 14 shots.
With 2:18 left, Doss made its move. A putback by Franklin cut the deficit to 60-59 and on the next possession Taylor picked up his fifth foul fighting for a rebound. Laron Hargrove hit both ends of the bonus to give the Dragons their second lead of the contest at 61-60 with 1:47 to go. Baskets by Hargrove and Kelshawn Knight-Goff put Doss up 66-63, and a Jaylon Hall rebound of his own missed free throw helped the Dragons seal it as they went five of six from the foul line.
Franklin finished with 16 points on seven-of-eight shooting. Hall led the Dragons with 17 points, going 13-for-16 from the foul line.
Doss will play in its first state championship game since 1980, when it lost to Owensboro Catholic 57-56. Head coach Tony Williams tapped into his inner artist to motivate his squad to earn a shot at the school’s first state title.
“I’m left-handed and I never really was good at art, but if you go in the locker room and look on the white board, I drew my best state championship trophy and my best runner-up trophy,” he said. “I told those guys if we find a way to pull it out tonight, you’re guaranteed one of those.”