FAMILIAR FOES MEET AGAIN: No. 10 Academy battles No. 14 Franklin for trip to Region III tournament
REMATCH TIME: One year ago, guard Darion Franklin (2) and Academy defeated Hayden Helton (4) and Franklin 69-47 in a Class 3A Region III quarterfinal at Lorena. Tonight at 7, Franklin's No. 10-ranked Bumblebees (26-7) and Helton's No. 14 Lions (19-3) clash again in a Region III quarterfinal at West High School. The winner will play No. 3 Hitchcock or No. 13 New Waverly in a regional tournament semifinal Friday night at Waco Midway. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
WEST – To advance to the Class 3A Region III tournament for a second consecutive season, Academy’s boys basketball team must get past a familiar foe: Franklin.
One year after Academy defeated Franklin 69-47 in the third round on its journey to the state semifinals, the No. 10-ranked Bumblebees (26-7) battle the No. 14 Lions (19-3) again in a regional quarterfinal showdown at 7 tonight at West High School.
The winner will move on to the Region III tournament at Waco Midway beginning Friday. The Academy program of sixth-year head coach James Holt is in the regional quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive season.
Both teams enter with significant momentum. The District 19-3A champion Bees have won 15 straight games, the most recent a 61-42 area-round victory over Clifton last Friday in Gatesville. That followed Academy’s 78-54 romp over Fairfield last Tuesday in Hearne.
After Franklin shared the 20-3A championship with No. 12 Crockett, the Lions of head coach Jake Russ followed their closer-than-expected 55-50 bi-district win over Caldwell by dominating West 68-42 last Friday.
Tonight’s matchup is the seventh Academy-Franklin game in the last four seasons, and the Bees are 4-2 in the previous six meetings.
Academy is 38-0 in district play in the last three seasons and hasn’t lost a league game since its 37-30 setback at Franklin in February 2019. The next season, in December 2019, the Lions erased a 19-point halftime deficit to edge the Bees 58-57 at the Ben Wheeler Martin’s Mill tournament.
Academy’s leading player is high-scoring senior point guard Darion Franklin, co-MVP of 19-3A last season. He scored 36 points against Fairfield in bi-district.
He’s aided in the starting lineup by senior guards Trae Rambeau and Chris Preddie and junior guards Cole Shackelford and Scout Brazeal. Senior guard Quintrell Lockett has provided a spark off the bench during the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Franklin didn’t begin its basketball season until Dec. 21, less than a week after the Lions’ football team captured the 3A Division II state championship to cap a 16-0 season. Several key members of that team are top players for Franklin’s basketball squad.
Franklin was undefeated in district play until it lost 75-52 at Crockett in the 20-3A finale Feb. 15, allowing the Bulldogs to share the championship with the Lions. A coin flip determined that Franklin is 20-3A's top seed in the playoffs.
The Lions’ go-to players include seniors Hayden Helton, Malcom Murphy, Marcus Wade and Darren Daugherty and sophomore Devyn Hidrogo. Franklin is known as a quick, physical team that applies defensive pressure and excels at rebounding.
The Academy-Franklin winner will play the victor of tonight’s quarterfinal between No. 3 Hitchcock (28-5) and No. 13 New Waverly (24-3) at Cypress Bridgeland. Academy defeated New Waverly 70-69 in double overtime in a Region III semifinal last March in Madisonville.
On the other half of the Region III bracket, tonight’s quarterfinals are No. 11 Lorena (22-13) against Groesbeck (20-13) at Robinson and No. 8 Diboll (22-4) against Buna (21-10) in Cleveland.
Friday’s regional semifinals at Midway are scheduled for 6 and approximately 7:30. The regional final is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Midway Arena, with the champion advancing to next week’s University Interscholastic League state tournament at San Antonio’s Alamodome.
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