Region 1-1A: Baker, Malone reach elusive Final Four

Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 23:50 PM.

MALONE — Chai Baker and the Malone Tigers were tired of being a championship stepping stone.

The Tigers’ senior scored 19 points on Friday in leading Malone past visiting Paxton 61-43 in the Region 1-1A boys basketball final. The victory ended a string of consecutive regional championship losses for Malone. The teams that beat the Tigers — Chipley and Holmes County — went on to win state titles.

Baker hopes the change in that trend propels Malone to its 14th state championship next week.

“The last two years have been heartbreaking for us to get that far and stay home,” Baker said. “We have unfinished business.”

Malone (25-4) advanced to play Chiefland, which defeated Crescent City on Friday, in the state semifinal in Lakeland on Wednesday. Paxton finished 25-4 with its third loss to Malone in four games this season. The Tigers also maintained their dominance of the Bobcats with a 13th win in the last 18 meetings dating to 1999.

Antwain Johnson added a game-high 22 points for Malone as the Tigers’ top two scorers were in typical form. Malone displayed its depth during a critical stretch in the third quarter.

Malone went scoreless for almost four minutes in the third quarter, but a 12-point lead was diminished only to nine before Baker hit two free throws with 4:20 to play.

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