Ruckel Rams edge out Destin Marlins

Deonte Sheffield takes the ball to the net in the first half against Ruckel. Sheffield scored 10 points for the Destin Marlins in their 36-33 loss.

With a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter, victory slipped away from the Destin Marlins as the Ruckel Rams walked away Monday night with a 36-33 win in the first round of the boys Okaloosa County Middle School Basketball Tournament.

"We just didn't take good enough care of the basketball in the fourth quarter," said Destin Coach Ron Griffiths.

"I think we had some opportunities in the fourth quarter. We went to the line, but we went 0-for-5 in about a minute and a half span and that allowed them to not only catch up but also take a one or two point lead.

"We needed to be a little bit more aggressive in the fourth instead of so passive, but again it came down to taking care of the basketball. We rushed some shots that we didn't need to take."

In the fourth quarter, Destin struck first with Skyler Shoumaker hitting the first of two tries from the foul line. But then the Marlins went flat with the Rams putting up 14 unanswered points. Austin Lawniczak started the scoring for the Rams with a layup on a turnover. Sam Stahl, who finished the evening with 22 points, went to the line three times and made five of six tries, plus put a rebound back for two points. Brady Smith swished a 3-pointer to tie the game.

In those last two minutes, Destin went to the line three times and made two of seven tries. The Rams put a rebound back to go up 34-31. Destin pushed the ball down the floor and made about four shots on the goal before Shoumaker was fouled. He drained both shots to make it a one-point game with 52 seconds left.

Ruckel went down and the Marlins forced a foul. The Rams missed both shots from the line and Destin called a timeout with 36 seconds to go.

The Marlins brought the ball in and worked the clock down with Deonte Sheffield driving it to the basket with five seconds left on the clock. Sheffield was whistled with a charge and Ruckel got the ball. The Rams got four more chances at the line and made two for a 36-33 win.

"That was our plan," Griffiths said. "We wanted the ball in Deonte's hands. He's made plays for us all year and it was a matter of getting him set up. What I didn't want to happen was the ball to go through and still have seven or eight seconds on the clock and give them an opportunity to get a shot off.

"Unfortunately he got called for a charge," Griffiths said.

Earlier in the game, Destin took an early 5-3 lead in the first quarter with Shoumaker making a baseline shot and Jack Bruner draining a 3-pointer.

In the second quarter, the Marlins continued to dominate as they outscored the Rams 12-4. Sheffield put up six points, while Shoumaker, Jason Shirley and Kyle Ferris each tossed in two points. Stahl scored the four points for Ruckel.

In the third, the scoring went back and forth with each team putting up 13 points and Destin leading 30-20 at the buzzer.

"You pretty much had two evenly matched teams," Griffiths said. "I told the guys we've had two close games go our way this year. Tonight was a close game and we just didn't get the breaks we needed to get."

Top scorer for the Marlins was Sheffield with 10 points. Shoumaker tossed in nine points and Bruner six.

"We finished the season 6-4, the second best the schools ever had," Griffiths said. "This was the first time we've hosted a tournament game in eight years, so there's a lot to be proud of.

"I think we've matured and grown as a team immensely as the year went on," Griffiths said. "They were a fun group to coach and I'm just proud of everything they've accomplished this year."