On a night when his poor decision making earned him a place on the Central High bench, senior point guard Dewaun Swafford made the right one at the right time.
After seeing a 17-point lead over north Georgia powerhouse Northwest Whitfield disappear in a wonderfully intense fourth quarter, the Pounders were able to salvage a 59-57 win on Swafford's 15-footer with five seconds to play. His teammates made that lead stand with a lockdown sequence on defense and as a result get to play host Hixson tonight in the finals of the Wildcat Classic.
The Wildcats earned their berth with a 62-47 win over Warren County. That game will follow the girls title match between Lincoln County and Fort Payne at 7. Lincoln County downed Rhea County 62-41 in the first girls semi, while Fort Payne, with only four wins coming into the tournament, was gunning for Cinderella designation with a 47-35 romp over Loretto..
In the consolation games earlier Friday, the Central girls downed Lookout Valley 53-34, Warren County claimed a girls win over Hixson 34-23, the Lincoln County boys dispatched Sale Creek 61-60 and Rhea County barely survived a rally from Lookout Valley's boys 53-50.
The rest of today's schedule looks as follows: the host Hixson girls take on Lookout Valley at 10 a.m.; the Lookout Valley and Sale Creek boys meet at 11:30; the Central girls meet Warren County at 1 and the Rhea County boys tackle Lincoln County at 2:30.
The Rhea County and Loretto girls and the Northwest Whitfield and Warren County boys play for third place beginning at 4, while the championship finales should get going around 7 p.m.
Zero to hero? Swafford bounces back
The final play of the first half, put the first 16 minutes of Central's win in a nutshell. Opportunistic and already up 31-18, the Purple Pounders got an uncontested follow-up by Jerome Stewart at the buzzer. Stewart flew it to clean up a missed 3-pointer while five Bruins remained on terra firma. It was a lesson Northwest coach Ryan Richards did not have to convey.
“This is a veteran team; they've heard me scream and yell,” Richards said. “Tonight wasn't one of those times. I just said that you can afford a letdown. I hope it's a lesson we take into region play next week. If we learned that, I'll trade a two-point loss for it.”
It was certainly taken into the second half. After Central scored first to stretch its lead to 17, the Bruins followed the rainbows of 3-point specialist Tanner Quarles all the way to a 14-0 run. While the battle was joined, Central answered and did not actually lose its lead until Quarles' four-point play with 1:18 left, making it 57-56.
Stewart, whose hustle served him so well in the first half, earned a pair of free throws with 1:10 left and converted one. The Bruins tried to place the dagger, but Quarles missed a trey and Central – getting Swafford back in the game to control the possession, ran most of the minute down before nailing the game-winner.
Then came the final defensive stand. Rogers and his team had the right idea, at least.
“I looked up on the scoreboard and saw we had committed only two personal fouls all half,” explained. “They had five seconds to get off and shot and we had five fouls to give. We could foul our way to the buzzer.”
Northwest inbounded the ball, and Central's five defenders grabbed, bumped, jostled – but could not get a single foul called. But the aggressive defense worked in and of itself, and a one-handed fling by Quarles was the closest thing to a shot the Bruins could manage.
David Holley led the winner with 14 points, followed by Robert Cobb with 12. Quarles led all scorers with 19 points, and teammates Oshea Hill and Tanner Bailey scored 11 apiece
Hey Abbott! Cats explode late
On many, if not most, winning occasions this season, the Hixson Wildcats have climbed onto the strong back of D'Mondte Smith and let him carry them. Friday night, they returned the favor.
Plagued by foul trouble and turnovers, Smith failed to build on his career night (23 points, 17 rebounds) in the first round. Instead, he watched from the sidelines as his teammates dazzled the Pioneers with a nine-point flurry in all of 52 seconds.
The sequence began when Smith was hit with his fourth foul with 2:00 still to play in the third quarter. He's already sat out a chunk of the first half after getting his third foul and the Pioneers quickly cut into the Wildcats' big early lead (16-7 after a quarter).
But not this time. A Chandler Abbott 3-pointer rang the bell on a 9-0 run, one that extended to 13-3 into the fourth quarter and was a 22-7 run when Smith finally returned for the final two minutes. Abbott led all scorers with 18 points.
“Two good games in a row from him,” acknowledge Wildcats coach Alex Disbrow. “In fact, when we needed it, he kind of turned it up a notch, wanted the ball.
“I think everyone in the gym expected us to give up the lead when he went out,” Disbrow continued. “But not this time. It's a credit to everyone on this team.”
Disbrow happily pointed out his team evenly doled out 14 assists in the game. Allan Diaz added 10 for the Wildcats, now 5-9. Lee Carden and Tucker Smith had 14 points each to lead Warren County (9-10).
Balanced Lincoln girls earn spot in finals
Rhea County's Julie Brown came up big in her team's semifinal, but her 23 points (which included five 3-pointers) were not supported by her teammates. Lincoln County had eight different players score, three in double figures.
It was a three-point game at halftime before it began raining 3-pointers. In all, Lincoln hit seven treys in the game.
In the other girls semi, Fort Payne, which has taken on the best/worst Alabama has had to offer, shut down the Loretto offense unconditionally, holding the team to exactly eight first-half points. Both teams opened things up in the fourth quarter, but Fort Payne's Peyton Lacey (12 points) and Lexi Stoner (13) combined to hit 9 of 10 foul shots
Morning glory for Central's Jones
Evidently, Central's Shemiyah Jones is a morning person. Playing in the 10 a.m. Consolation opener against Lookout Valley, Jones took the game over after halftime, scoring 15 of her game-best 18 points in the last two quarters. Sandrea Sylman added 13 for the winners, who had only a three-point lead at the half.
The Lady Pounders were coached by boys coach Rick Rogers, as Rick May was required to be out of town at a family function.
In the other girls consolation, Warren County threatened to skunk Hixson in the second quarter, but settled for a 13-1 game-deciding outburst.
In the boys consolation games, Lookout Valley's Kenqual Dozier missed a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer as Rhea County hung on for a 53-50 win. Jalen Smith was golden for the Eagles with 25 points, while Dozier finished with 22 to lead Lookout Valley.
New tournament arrival Sale Creek gave Lincoln County a scare for a quarter, but the Panthers managed only five points in the second quarter to allow Lincoln to pull away for a 61-39 win.
Warren County 7 15 14 11 – 47
Hixson 16 11 17 18 – 62
WARREN CO. (47) – League 2, Lee Carden 14, Rutledge 8, Tucker Smith 14, Morales 7, Clark, Taylor 2, Jennings.
HIXSON (62) – Alameda, Nelson 6, D'Mondta Smith 9, Hayes 9, Allan Diaz 10, Chandler Abbott 18, Novene 4, Murphy 6..
3 pt. Goals: WC 1 (Carden); Hixson 3 (Abbott 2, Hayes). Records: Hixson 5-9; WC 9-10.
NW Whitfield 9 9 24 15 – 57
Central 14 19 15 11 – 59
NW WHITFIELD (57) – King 4, McDaniel, Tanner Bailey 11, Branson, Whisenant, Oshea Hill 11, Storey 6, Tanner Quarles 19, Stansbury 6.
CENTRAL (59) – Swafford 5, Tiller, Robert Cobb 12, Billingsley, Hill 4, Morgan 9, David Holley 14, Smith 6, Stewart 9.
3-point goals: NWW 7 (Quarles 5, Storey 2); Central none. Records: NWW 9-3; Central 8-3.
Rhea County 13 11 10 14 – 41
Lincoln County 16 11 `14 21 – 62
RHEA CO. (41) – Revis 2, Freeman, Miles, Wallis 6, Purser, Brown 23, Thompson 2, Levi 12, Boys 4.
LINCOLN CO. (62) – Miller, Storey 10, Higgins 7, Buchanan 5, King 12, Slayton 11, Hone 2, Graham 5, Faulkner 8, Watson.
3-point goals: RC 5 (Brown 5); LC 7 (Slayton 4, Faulkner 2, Graham).
Loretto 3 5 9 18 – 35
Fort Payne 7 12 9 19 – 47
LORETTO (35) – Burden 6, Johns 2, Huntley 3, Santiago 4, Moore 5, Sirmones 8, Brodie 7.
FORT PAYNE (47) – Bain 9, Steifel 2, Nolan 9, Townson 2, Peyton Lacey 12, Lexi Stover 13.
3-point goals: Loretto 3 (Huntley, Moore, Brodie); FP 3 (Bain, Nolan, Stover). Records: Fort Payne, 5-11.
Girls Consolation Games
Lookout Valley 12 8 7 7 – 34
Central 10 13 18 12 – 53
LOOKOUT VALLEY (34) – Foster 4, Walker 9, Mitchell, Hayley McBee 11, Hoge 1, Hall 2, Evers 8
CENTRAL (53) – Shewlyeh Jones 18, Reynolds, Rogers 8, Davis 4, Powell 44, Sandrea Sylman 13, Corley 6, Mitchell, Prater, Jones, Ransom.
3-point goals: LV 3 (Evers 2, McBee); Central 3 (Rogers 2, Corley).
Hixson 6 1 5 11 – 23
Warren County 7 13 3 11 – 34
HIXSON (23) – Hill 5, Taylor 3, Harmon 3, Staten 6, Massengale 6, Slaughter, McReynolds.
WARREN CO. (34) – Newby 9, Brittney Myers 10, Melton, Winfree, Martin 7, Holmes, Hitchcock, Nokes 2, Holmer 2, Dishman 4.
3-point goals: Hixson 1 (Harmon); WC 3 (Myers 2, Martin).
Boys Consolation Games
Lincoln County 17 19 11 14 – 61
Sale Creek 16 5 14 4 – 39
LINCOLN CO. (61) – Xavier Talley-Hyde 10, Thompson 4, Hadley 2, Christian 8, Lewter, Jones 3, Grimes 4, B.J. Thompson 10, Boyd 1, Justin Blackwell 15, Malone 4.
SALE CREEK (39) – Lance Burton 4, Logan Burton 9, Cody Daniel 10, Turner, Reavis, Chris Janow 11, Mobley 4, Heard 2, Hooker, Lawson.
3-point goals: LC 4 (Christian 2, Talley-Hyde, Jones); SC 1 (Logan Burton).
Lookout Valley 11 8 18 12 – 50
Rhea County 12 12 22 7 – 53
LOOKOUT VALLEY (50) – Clounch 2, Kenquel Dozier 22,. Pickett 5,. Morris 7, Jones 4, Parham 6, Taylor 4.
RHEA CO. (53) – G. Hill 2, Jalen Smith 25, Harrison 1, N. Patterson, B. Patterson, Nick McWhorter 21, Horton, Laden, Pendleton 2, Jenkins 5, L. Hill 3.
3-point goals: LV 5 (Dozier 3, Pickett, Morgain).RC 1 (Smith).