BONIFAY — Chris Walker let his teammates have some fun on Saturday. Then he decided to take command.
The University of Florida signee scored a game-high 28 points to lead Holmes County past Malone 55-47 in the Region 1-1A boys basketball championship game.
Holmes County (18-8) advanced to its first state semifinal and will play the winner of Hawthorne-Hamilton County in Lakeland on Tuesday. Malone finished 25-4 with its second regional final loss in as many years.
Walker provided counterpart Ty Baker and Malone with his typical difficult matchup. The 6-foot-9 senior has elevated his play during the postseason, that point reinforced late in Saturday’s game as Holmes County avenged a regional semifinal loss to Malone last season.
Walker’s presence in the paint and at the free-throw line helped the Blue Devils rebound from a furious Malone rally in the fourth quarter.
“All the hard work we put in paid off,” Walker said.
Walker was heavily guarded for much of the game and needed to work for many of his points. He helped Holmes County keep a healthy lead early in the fourth quarter with two putbacks of his misses and a block at the other end as the Blue Devils built a 44-35 cushion.
Malone went on a 10-1 run behind Ty Baker, who had 17 points, and brother, Chai Baker, 16, to tie the game 45-45 two minutes later. Walker put Holmes County ahead with a pair of free throws and Ty Baker tied the game for a final time on the next possession.
Walker scored, then added three free throws. Two Malone misses later, Holmes County was ahead five with 35 seconds to play. Malone had two more misses and Jacky Miles capped the scoring for the Blue Devils at the line.
Walker opened the game with a slam dunk, but did most of his damage on the defensive end in the first half with rebounds and altering shots. He scored six points in the first 16 minutes amid tight defense by Ty Baker and an occasional double team.
That enabled Clay Keen and Ty Russ to wiggle free for outside shots. Keen hit three 3-pointers in the first half, his final trey giving Holmes County a 22-15 lead with less than three minutes to play. Russ has two 3s and seven points to help the Blue Devils to a 24-18 halftime lead.
Malone cut into the deficit with an Austin Williams’ free throw and a Ty Baker slam at the buzzer. Williams added 11 points.
Walker had an impact on the game in each half and showed why he’s one of the nation’s top prospects.
“We have always known he has the ability to take over the game, it’s just when he decides to do it,” Holmes County coach Po White said. “He has elevated his game since the district tournament and no one can touch him.”
Keen added 11 points and Russ seven.
- MALONE (47)
- Williams 3 3-5 11, CBaker 6 2-3 16, TBaker 5 4-5 17, AJohnson 0 1-2 1, Speights 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 12-18 47.
- HOLMES COUNTY (55)
- TRuss 2 1-2 7, Miles 0 3-4 3, Thompson 3 0-2 6, Walker 9 10-20 28, Keen 4 0-0 11. Totals: 16 14-20 55.
- Malone 11 7 12 17 — 47
- Holmes County 12 8 14 17 — 55
- 3-point field goals: Malone 3 (CBaker 2, TBaker), Holmes County 5 (Keen 3, TRuss 2). Turnovers: Malone 11, Holmes County 17. Team fouls: Malone 19, Holmes County 17. Fouled out: Malone (Williams).