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SEYMOUR — New Albany’s Leondre McBirth sank a 17-foot jumper with a second remaining to push his team past Jennings County, 61-59, Friday in Class 4A boys semifinal sectional action.
The Bulldogs held a 48-40 lead heading into the final period but needed McBirth’s heroics to move on to tonight’s
title contest against Jeffersonville.
Jennings County battled back in the final stanza by forcing and converting timely turnovers but fell just shy of sending the game into overtime.
The Panthers end their season with an overall 13-10 mark, while New Albany improved to 15-7.
The inside-outside duo of Brad Hunt and Bailey Sanders combined for 36 points for Jennings County, but it couldn’t counter the three-pronged
attack by the Bulldogs, who got 17 from McBirth, 18 from Jermaine Parrish and 15 from Josh Rogers for 50 of their team’s total, as well as 12 of their team’s 22 rebounds.
The Panthers closed the gap to 57-59 with less than a minute to go after a pair of free throws by Sanders, and then knotted the contest moments later after Adrian Kirchner picked off a pass and took it in for a layup.
Displaying calm and coolness as the clock melted down, the Bulldogs worked the ball around until McBirth got it with four seconds left and then slipped past his defender for a straight-on jumper.
The Panthers’ last effort to score with a second left never transpired, as their long pass went out of bounds and New Albany got the ball back and ran out the clock.
“That last shot was crushing,” said Jennings County coach Joey Hartwell. “The boys played their hearts out and battled back but just came up short.”
Jennings County actually had a 34-33 lead at halftime before the Bulldogs outscored them 15-6 in the third period. Parrish scored six straight for his crew early in the third and then kept his team fired up with a dunk to open the fourth. It appeared he was going to take the last shot before dishing the ball off to surprise his opponents.
“Those two guys were lightning fast,” Hartwell said. “We had to work hard to contain them and when we did, they had teammates that could shoot from the wings.”
Hunt came on strong in the second half for Jennings, but inside was basically a one-man show down low as teammate Tommy Taylor went down midway through the third period with a knee injury.
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