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Red Level sinks Southern Choctaw, 79-61

In his last home game as a Red Level Tiger, senior D.J. Sankey ended his team’s 79-61 sub-region win over Southern Choctaw with an exclamation point Friday night.

With four seconds left in the game, Sankey broke away unimpeded and slammed home a dunk that sent the Tigers’ fans into a frenzy.

“I just wanted to take advantage of it,” Sankey said. “I knew it would be a great way to close out my last game at Red Level.”

Sankey finished with 26 points, 12 assists and eight steals as No. 7 Red Level advanced to the South Regional at Troy University. The Tigers will face No. 4 Houston County (29-5) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve been so blessed this year,” Red Level coach Fred Kelley said. “It’s been a team game all season long and everyone played great tonight — from our starting seniors to the bench to our great fans, it was a total effort.”

Red Level (22-8) used its perimeter shooting offense to stymie Southern Choctaw’s defense, particularly in the first quarter. The Tigers were 4-from-5 from 3-point territory in the first quarter as they opened out to a 22-15 lead. Red Level finished the game with 11 baskets from behind the arc, while Southern Choctaw had just one 3-pointer.

“That’s been our game all season long,” said Red Level senior guard Cale Nolen, who finished with 19 points including five 3-pointers. “If it’s open, we’re going to take the shot. This is probably the best shooting team we’ve ever had here at Red Level.”

The Tigers continued their strong offense in the second quarter, moving out a 15-point lead with 6:34 left. Southern Choctaw (7-12) would not go away, however, as the Indians cut Red Level’s lead to 34-25 heading into halftime.

The teams traded baskets back and forth at the start of the third quarter, but Red Level was able to slowly increase its lead thanks to sharp shooting and unselfish play. With 3:15 left in the third, Sankey stole the ball from a Southern Choctaw player and dribbled down to the right post before quickly passing behind his head to an open Cale Nolen on the left post. Nolen was fouled on the made layup and hit the free throw to give the Tigers a 49-35 advantage at that point.

“I didn’t even have to look, I knew right where he was going to be,” Sankey said of the play.

Red Level led 60-42 heading into the fourth quarter and the Indians got no closer than 12 points the rest of the way.

“At halftime, our assistant coach Valrie told our guys that we still had to be aggressive on offense,” Kelley said. “They did; they settled down and we began to get a defense to keep (Southern Choctaw) from penetrating so much and we got a few transition buckets.

“They really stepped up tonight, especially our seniors — this was the last home game that they’ll have at Red Level.”

Luke Sharp added 20 points for the Tigers. Shad Causey led Southern Choctaw with 15 points, followed by Lewis Foster with 13 and Andrew Philon with 11.