Baker scores 44 in leading Tigers to 14th state title


Malone won its 14th boys basketball title, a figure that ranks second in the state in all classifications.

Taka Hamadda photo | The (Lakeland) Ledger
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10:59 PM.

LAKELAND — Chai Baker was like the starter who pitched eight dominant innings. Antwain Johnson played the role of closer.

Malone surged past Hamilton County 78-61 on Thursday for the Tigers’ 14th state prep boys basketball championship and first since 1998. Baker lit up The Lakeland Center with a game-high 44 points and scored all but six of Malone’s tally in the first half. Johnson started slowly, but scored close to half of Malone’s third-quarter points when the Tigers finally gained distance.

Baker opened the third with two baskets in giving Malone a 35-29 lead before Shaw Williams narrowed the gap to four points with 5:58 to play. Johnson then scored eight of Malone’s next 10 points in all fashions, three from the free-throw line, two on a short jumper and three on a 3-pointer. Xavier Gray capped a 10-2 run with two of his six points to deliver Malone a 45-33 advantage midway through the third.

(Click here for photos from the title game)

Johnson had two more free throws in the quarter to up the tally to 49-35 with two minutes to go. He added his final basket and 12th third-quarter point at 1:13 for a commanding 54-39 bulge. The junior finished with 19 points.

Baker and Johnson put in their final five points in the fourth to avoid another opponent surge. Baker outdueled Hamilton County’s Kevin McClain, who kept pace in the first half and finished with 25 points before leaving the game as one of three Trojans to foul out.

Baker added 14 rebounds in helping Malone gain the edge on the boards 47-37. Johnson had eight rebounds and Gray stood in to match Baker with 14 caroms. Rebounding was crucial, Malone coach Steve Welch said, as Hamilton County (21-9) dominated Chipley in its Wednesday semifinal romp.

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