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Blue Eagles finish tournament with consecutive losses

By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
After escaping with a 56-55 overtime win against the Central Jaguars in the opening round of the T.R. Miller Holiday Invitational played Jan. 2-4 at Miller Gym, the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles dropped their second and third round games of the competition.
After completing play in the tournament, the Blue Eagles' season record stands at 4-11.
T.R. Miller 69, W.S. Neal 51
In a Jan. 3 second-round matchup with the T.R. Miller Tigers, the Blue Eagles fell behind by a big margin in the first half before mounting a second-half comeback that came up short.
The 69-51 loss placed the Blue Eagles in a position of playing for consolation on Jan. 4 against Mary Montgomery while the win earned Miller a spot in the Jan. 4 title game against Escambia County.
The Tigers began the game hitting on all cylinders and raced out to a 20-2 lead before Neal's Calvin Washington hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that cut the deficit to 20-5 at the end of the opening quarter.
With Miller continuing the first-half assault, the Blue Eagles fell further behind at 27-5 with 5:45 remaining before intermission. Consecutive Neal baskets by Nick Benjamin and Keith Woods pulled the Blue Eagles closer, 27-9, before the Tigers went on a 14-7 run that put them comfortably ahead by a 41-16 halftime score.
The Blue Eagles fought back gallantly in the third quarter. Getting a strong collective effort from Woods, Benjamin, J.J. Pitts, Marcus Folmar and Craig Tagudar, Neal outscored Miller 13-4 the first five minutes of the period to pull within 16 points, 45-29.
The Tigers, however, steadied themselves the remaining three minutes of the period and held a 17-point advantage, 53-36, as the teams entered play in the final stanza.
Woods scored four points the first couple of minutes of the fourth quarter to reduce the Tiger lead down to 57-42. That was as close as Neal would get, however, as Miller held the Blue Eagles at bay the remainder of the contest and exited with an 18-point victory.
Keith Woods and Nick Benjamin led the Blue Eagles' offense with 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Mary Montgomery 60
W.S. Neal 34
In the Jan. 4 consolation game, the Blue Eagles face a formidable opponent, the Mary G. Montgomery Vikings, who entered the game having dropped a close 77-73 second-round decision to eventual tournament champion Escambia County.
The Blue Eagles gave the Class 6A Vikings (10-2) all they could handle for three quarters, but Neal's final-quarter offensive lull allowed MGM to turn a tight contest into a decisive 60-34 victory.
The contrasting styles the two teams displayed in the opening quarter set the tone for the entire contest, as the Vikings' edge under the boards was offset by the Blue Eagles' quickness.
Keith Woods registered the first six Blue Eagle points of the game that enabled Neal to hold a 6-5 lead with 3:50 left in the first period. After MGM scored a basket from underneath to go ahead 7-6, J.J. Pitts hit a 3-pointer that put Neal back on top, 9-7. The Vikings then went on a 4-0 run to lead 11-9 before Marcus Folmar's baseline jumper tied the game, 11-11, as the quarter ended.
In the second quarter, the Vikings built a 16-13 lead before a Folmar jump shot from the wing pulled the Blue Eagles within a point, 16-15, with 5:20 remaining before halftime. After consecutive baskets by the Vikings, Keith Woods' 3-point play just before intermission cut the lead down to two, 20-18.
Early in the third quarter, Woods' drive to the hole tied the game at 20-20 before MGM scored the next four points to hold a 24-20 edge. Nick Benjamin then proceeded to come through with a 3-point play that cut the lead down to 24-23 with 6:18 to go in the quarter.
With the Blue Eagle offense experiencing problems over the next five minutes, the Vikings went on a 6-0 run that padded their lead to 30-23 before a 3-pointer by Pitts brought Neal back into the thick of things at 30-26. As the period came to a close, two more MGM baskets and a Woods' jumper made the score stand at 34-28.
Neal's inability to hit from the perimeter coupled with the Vikings' domination inside the paint allowed MGM to completely control the final-period action. The Vikings outscored the Blue Eagles 20-2 over the last five minutes of the game to end with a 26-point win and the tournament's consolation trophy.
Keith Woods scored 17 points to lead the Blue Eagle offense.