Calera pulls away late to defeat Chelsea, advances to area tournament championship

Published 4:59 pm Thursday, February 7, 2019

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA – If any more evidence is needed to support the fact that the Class 6A Area 8 boys region is one of the toughest around then look no further than the semifinal game of the area tournament between Chelsea and Calera on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

The Hornets, who entered the game as the No. 2 seed after losing the tie-breaking coin flip to Helena, played outstanding basketball all season but on Feb. 6, everything was on the line against No. 3 seed Calera as the Eagles pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 42-32 and ended Chelsea’s stellar season.

It was a tough draw for Chelsea, as Calera is no doubt one of the more athletic teams in the area, but aside from that, the Eagles also returned some key players from injury just in time for the postseason.

One of those Eagles that recently returned from injury was CJ Smith, and against Chelsea he finished with 13 points to lead all scorers.

It was a back-and-forth game between the two teams for three quarters as Chelsea held a 7-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 19-18 halftime lead.

The tight game continued in the third quarter as both teams traded baskets as Calera took a 29-28 lead into the final period.

The fourth quarter was where momentum shifted, however, as Calera got big plays from seniors Smith and Cornelius Brown down the stretch.

Smith opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer that stretched Calera’s lead to 32-28 and later in the quarter, Brown scored five straight points that essentially put the game away for the Eagles.

The biggest shot came with 1:20 left in the game with Calera leading 36-30 when Brown hit a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Eagles outscored Chelsea 13-4 to pull away for the 10-point win as Calera head coach George Drake praised the way his team closed out the game.

“The fourth quarter was a testament to our guys,” Drake said. “All year we kind of dealt with some injuries, and we really try to get after it in our practices and be in shape. We want to be in shape so in the fourth quarter we can still be playing fast and go well into our bench. Those guys kind of come in and keep the legs fresh, and that gives us a second burst in the fourth quarter.”

All in all, Calera forced several Chelsea turnovers and limited the Hornets to just two made 3-pointers, and big man Daniel Washington was held to just six points in the game.

“It’s kind of how we like to play, we like to play fast, up tempo and tonight our guys really got after it on the defensive end and the intensity was very high,” Drake said. “We got some turnovers and Chelsea’s a really good ball team, and tonight we had some success and got some turnovers and got out to run.”

In addition to Smith, Brown also finished in double figures with 11 points for Calera.

Next up, Calera will take on Helena on Friday, Feb. 8 for the Class 6A Area 8 tournament championship. The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. at Helena High School.