TYLER -- What a way for DeArtis Nickerson Jr. to cap his final district season.

The retiring head coach's Malakoff team defeated Frankston 72-62 Saturday in a true District 18-3A championship game on the big stage at UT-Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center. An outcome that finally settled the score after four spirited head-to-head struggles this season.

"It's bittersweet," Nickerson said. "But I think after 30 years, getting my 500th win and then having a good year that this is the best time to go out."

Malakoff sophomore guard Q.T. Barker goes up for two against Frankston. Barker scored nine points, but he did most of his damage on six assists in the District 18-3A championship game. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Nickerson's 500th career win came in December against Frankston of all teams. That seven-point, non-district victory set a tone for all future meetings with the Indians.

Frankston got the game back in January with a 59-48 district decision. It remained undefeated in district competition through last week when it ran into Malakoff a third time, a 46-42 loss which allowed the one-district loss Tigers to tie it in the standings.

Both teams won their final regular season games Tuesday and opted to play for the district title rather than call it a draw and flip a coin for the higher playoff seed.

In the footnotes, the two teams also were competing to play Sabine in the first round of the playoffs. Sabine, which won a play-in game Friday, is the only team in the adjacent District 17-3A to enter the postseason tournament with a record below .500 in league play.

Junior forward Kendrick Rogers came out in the championship game like a man on fire for Frankston (25-4, 13-2). He had nine points and nine rebounds in the first half to guide the Indians to a 29-25 lead.

But a split second after Rogers drew a foul on a layup basket for a 31-29 lead at the 6:56 mark of the third quarter, the game began to swing in Malakoff's (26-4, 14-1) favor.

Rogers was given a technical foul for taunting after the score. It was his third foul.

He made the free throw, but Malakoff senior Kendrick Hornbuckle made the two technical shots to cut the lead back to one point.

Eight seconds later, Rogers picked up a fourth foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the period.

The Tigers made Frankston pay with a 22-4 run to close the quarter and led 53-36 thanks in large part to four assists from sophomore guard Q.T. Barker.

Rogers re-entered the game with 7:35 remaining and helped Frankston close the gap all the way down to 67-60 with just more than a minute to play, but the Indians had to foul to conserve the clock.

Malakoff shot 5-for-8 at the free throw line in the final minute to fend off the comeback.

Malakoff guard Kendrick Hornbuckle drives against Frankston's Justice Bean. Hornbuckle led the Tigers with 17 points. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Hornbuckle led the Tigers with 17 points. Marcus Dowell finished a point behind on the winning side and helped keep the team afloat early with Malakoff's first five points of the game. Tyler Russell also reached double digits for Nickerson's squad with 10 points and recorded a game-best four steals.

Barker finished with nine points, six assists, four rebounds and a steal.

"We worked very hard for it tonight," Hornbuckle said. "We chased them for many, many weeks trying to get first place. We've got it."

Rogers paced Frankston with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Justice Bean and Caden Bruton both scored 12 points in the game. Dylan Hokit added 10 points and Ozzie Buckner rounded out all Indians scorers with seven.

The loss was not the end of the world for the Frankston. They take the league's No. 2 spot and will face Jefferson in the Class 3A bi-district round.

Malakoff and Sabine will meet 7 p.m. Tuesday at Van High School.

"Sabine is almost a mirror image of us," Nickerson said. "They're short, quick and like to press and play up-tempo. I know they're the fourth seed, but they did not play like a fourth seed (Friday). I'm looking forward to it. We've got to play our A-game or we're one-and-done. Bottom line."

The Tigers and Indians could theoretically meet a fifth time this season.

If both teams win their first four playoff games, they will meet for the Class 3A Region III championship and the right to advance to San Antonio's final four round March 7 at Lufkin's Angelina College.

"Frankston is such a bad match for us," Nickerson said. "They do an outstanding job coaching wise and playing the man-to-man against us. I thought the second half and mainly the third quarter was our brand of basketball. That's where we got it done."

Marcus Dowell goes up and draws a foul against defense from Frankston bigs Kendrick Rogers (34) and Caden Bruton in the second quarter of Saturday's game. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Malakoff 72, Frankston 62

District 18-3A Boys Championship Game
At UT-Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center, Tyler

Malakoff                  7    18      28     19    --    72
Frankston              12    17      7       26    --   62

MALAKOFF (26-4)-- Kendrick Hornbuckle 17; Marcus Dowell 16; Tyler Russell 10; Q.T. Barker 9; Jared Givens 9; Braylon Cable 7; A.J. Cook 4.
FRANKSTON (25-4)-- Kendrick Rogers 21; Justice Bean 12; Caden Bruton 12; Dylan Hokit 10; Ozzie Buckner 7.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Malakoff: Horbuckle. Frankston: Hokit (2), Buckner.