Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 9, 2003

Greenville - In the end it was too much too late for the Pike Liberal Patriots who rallied in the fourth quarter scoring 20 points on the second ranked Fort Dale Eagles but couldn't overcome a slow start, losing 54-41.

"We started playing a little bit better (in the second half) and the shots started falling," said Patriot's head coach Paul Kirchharr. "They always hustled and always worked hard to try to stay in the ballgame."

Kirchharr said all year the Pats (5-19) have been suffering from the loss of seven seniors from a team that made it to the final four last year.

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"We've been a young team all year starting three or four sophomores," he said. "We're really looking forward to next year."

While the year has been frustrating for Kirchharr and his bunch, lack of effort has not been a problem.

"I'm really proud of them," he said. "They hung in there and did a good job all year."

The Eagles, who were missing starting forward Andrew Hollis who broke his ankle during practice earlier in the week, led by eight at the first quarter break and extended the lead to 17 at the half, but head coach Reggie Mantooth wasn't impressed with his team's effort.

"We're just not playing at playoff intensity," he said. "It was kind of just a walkthrough effort for us in the second half. (Pike) hit some big threes and kept fighting and we didn't do a good job of closing out the game."

For Pike, Brandon Hooks led all scorers with 20 points with Mitch Herring scoring seven on the night, his season high. Dean Anderson and Herbert Ward each added three points.

Brett Paulk led Fort Dale with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Ty Langston added 12 points for the Eagles, who moved to 23-2 on the year and advance to play Hooper in the area championship game today at 6 p.m.