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1A: Paxton Handles Bell 63-50

February 23, 2016
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1A: Paxton Handles Bell 63-50

“We believe” chants were ringing through The Lakeland Center from the Paxton fans in the final minute of Tuesday’s Class 1A state boys basketball tournament semifinal game against Bell.

The excitement was understandable. For the first time since 1962, the Bobcats will play for the state championship.

Zach Varnum scored 24 points and Grant Stewart added 19 points and seven assists as Paxton defeated Bell 63-50 in the Class 1A state semifinals.

With the victory, the Bobcats (27-3) will play defending Class 1A champion Chipley in today’s championship at 5:05 p.m.

“We returned a good nucleus, but we lost so much depth,” Paxton coach Jeff Bradley said. “For us to get to this point, you had to believe.

“We set four goals, to be the No. 1 seed in the district, to win the district tournament, to win the region and then come and win a state championship. We have a chance.”

The Bobcats led 44-43 after Bell’s Josh Thomas scored the opening basket of the fourth quarter. Paxton went on a game-ending 18-2 run to reach the title game.

“The David and Goliath thing, I don’t think it’s true in this matter,” Stewart said of the matchup against Chipley. “We believe we can compete with anybody. They’re a great team, a great school. We respect them, but we’re going to go out and go get it.”

Bell made four shots in the fourth quarter but two came in the final minute when the game was already determined.

It ended a dream season for the Bulldogs (24-6), who were playing in their first state championship tournament.

“I don’t know if it was (Bell running out of gas) so much as us missing some shots,” Bell coach Chuck Mehl said. “Sometimes it falls your way, sometimes it doesn’t. We were getting some pretty decent shots. It’s not like we were taking wild shots.”

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