Two of the most anti-climactic plays you can imagine failed to trump the drama of the Wildcat Classic championship game Saturday night at Hixson High School.
The numbers tell us that Central Purple Pounders came away with a 57-55 victory over the host Wildcats. The play-by-play tells us that, for the second straight night, Central point guard Dewaun Swafford hit the game winning shot with nine seconds to play. What followed … well, you had to be there.
The crowd was in the mood whoop it up, especially after a drama-free girls championship was that was methodically earned by Lincoln County over the week's Cinderella team, Fort Payne, by a 61-43 scores.
But with district foes Hixson and Central each feeling the rush of recent success, the thrills were quick in coming. And they kept coming, right down to the final :0.1.
“We enjoyed this week,” Central coach Rick Rogers said. “This gym is a lot like home, we good crowds and look at the road we took to get here. I'm convinced you can't win championships without some experience about what winning is all about. This is the first tournament trophy we've won in four years.”
The rest of the day's action was also duly rewarded, as Northwest Whitfield’s boys finished third with a 72-60 defeat of Warren County. The Rhea County girls, wracked by the flu, needed overtime but still took third place away from Loretto 54-49. The Lincoln County boys and Warren County girls took the fifth place games.
Central's win all about strategy
Central which trailed by as much as six early in the third quarter, watched as the Wildcats wiped out a four-point deficit in the final two minutes. D'Mondta Smith's layup tied the game at 51, but 1:21 still remained in the game, and it was all about strategy.
Letting Swafford run the show, the Pounders ran it down to 14, and a spinning jumper from the foul line made it 53-51. Plenty of time remained for Hixson to get off good shot, and was one that Wildcats coach Alex Disbrow would have put on his short list – an open 3-pointer in the corner by marksman Chandler Abbott.
It jammed in the rim with :0.1 left in the game. But it was far from over. Inexplicably, the only player instructed to touch the ball failed to do and it went out of bounds untouched – giving it back to Hixson under its own goal. But a job to Smith was the only feasible play, and at least 10 hands were waiting for that pass, and no shot resulted.
Central coach Rick Rogers elected to keep his team's new pressure defense – nicely showcased on Thursday and Friday – in his hip pocket for the first half against his very familiar district foe.
The result, in part, was that Central came out colder than last year's cell phone. A five-minute scoring drought enabled Hixson to work its way gradually to a 9-5 lead – a margin that remained intact at the half even after David Holley's shake-and-bake layup.
In the early going, Smith was doing his level best to have a monster night for the Wildcats. Even though he missed a thunder slam and a pair of 3-point shots in his mixed bag presentation that also included nine points..
The trap reared its ugly head in the third quarter with the Purple Gang down by six, and they managed to match their first-half output in the period. They also managed to have a lead thanks to a half-court buzzer-beater by Colton Morgan.
“Right then, I could see it in their faces,” said Rogers, whose team also had wins over Lincoln County and Northwest Whitfield during the week. “They came to the bench saying, 'let's play.' “
Swafford finished the game with 16 points – 13 in the second half – while David Holley was occasionally spectacular scoring 12. Jerome Stewart scored six, but was named tournament MVP.
“I know we know win without him,” Rogers said. “His contributions aren't always stats.”
Smith was his team's MVP to be sure, his 18-point, 13-rebound night his second double-double of the tournament.
“We can work with this,” said Wildcats coach Alex Disbrow, whose team remarkable is only 5-10 going into the new year. “Two point loss and a wide open show to win it that you just don't hit. I can live with happy. I'm not happy about losing, but I'm proud of my team.”
Girls championship: For the better part of a quarter, a comeback for the ages was teased, and on the verge of becoming a reality. Lincoln County, which scored the game's first 11 points, saw its lead dwindle from 20-2 to 23-18 before getting back on track to lead by 10 (31-21) at the half.
Tournament MVP Cortney Storey was the pillar of the offense all week, finishing off her week and 2012 with 21 points. Lexi Stover, with 18, was Fort Payne's only double-digit scorer.
Boys 3rd place: Tanner Quarles may have some first-hand knowledge of the legacy of Allen Carden, the former Northwest Whitfield player-then-coach who re-wrote the Georgia record book for 3-point shooting. After all, Carden's sister is a current member of the Northwest faculty.
But on nights like Friday, Quarles own 3-point prowess might evoke memories of the master. Quarles buried six treys, three straight when the game was on the line, earn the Bruins third place hardwood in the Wildcat Invitational.
Quarles finished the night with 20 points, one of eight Bruins (10-3) to score.
“He's been really consistent this year,” said Bruins coach Ryan Richards, who had mixed feelings about this one. “We really need him on nights like this.”
The Briuns jumped out of the gate on Warren County with a 7-0, but had lost all of that lead by halftime.
Said Richards, “We have some guys who come off the bench who feel they might be good enough to start. Tonight, some of them let us down when they got into the game.”
Helping right the listing ship was Caleb Storey, who scored nine of his 12 points in the third quarter. That set the stage for Quarles' reign of terror, knocking down three 3s in a row to move the lead from six to 15 midway through the final period.
The other Bruin having a big night was Oshea Hill, who was a force inside with 15 points and nine rebounds. Tucker Smith was the go-to guy for Warren County, leading all scorers with 27 points.
Girls 3rd place: Amber Levi, one of several Rhea County players who missed part of this tournament with a bug, hit 4-for-4 free throws in overtime to earn the 14-3 Lady Eagles a 54-49 win over Loretto. Julie Brown, who had 16 points, made all-tournament for Rhea despite playing with the flu, while Whitney Thompson hit three treys to add 13 points to the winning ledger.
“We have two out today, Amber was out Thursday and we have four, including Julie, playing with doctor's prescriptions,” Rhea coach Shane Johnston summarized. “But no matter who's been in there, we've been able to keep playing together as a team.”
Sabrine Sirmones led Loretto with 16 points.
Boys 5th place: A tournament-best 34 points from Rhea County's Jalen Smith was not enough to get the Golden Eagles over the hump. Instead, Lincoln County relied on balance, getting 12 points from Ty Lewton and 10 each from Xavier Talley-Hyde and Tyler Blackwell 10.
Girls 5th place: The Warren County girls were able to defeat on-again, off-again Central by 47-34 final. It was an “on” morning for the Lady Cherokees,.who opened up a double digit lead in less than a quarter.
Central 9 10 19 15 – 53
Hixson 9 14 12 16 – 51
CENTRAL (53) – Dewaun Swafford 16, Cobb 7, Hill, Montgomery 6, David Holley 12, Stewart 6, D. Smith 6, Tiller, Trammell.
HIXSON (51) – Alameda, Nelson 9, D'Mondta Smith 18, Hayes 7, Diaz 9, Murphy 2, Abbott 6, Novene.
3-point goals: Central 4 (Swafford, Morgan, Holley, Cobb); Hixson 5 (Hayes 2, Abbott 2, Nelson). Records: Central 9-3; Hixson 5-10.
Lincoln County 20 11 19 12 – 61
Fort Payne 8 13 10 12 – 43
LINCOLN CO. (61) – Cortney Storey 21, Higgins 9, Buchanan 9, King 6, Stayton 3, Graham 8, Watson 5.
FORT PAYNE (43) – Bain 5, Steifel 9, Owen, Townson 3, McElrath 3, Lacey 3, Lexi Stover 18..
3-point shots: LC 3 (Buchanan, Stayton, Graham); FP 3 (Stover 2, Bain). Records: FP 5-12; LC 14-3.
Boys 3rd Place
NW Whitfield 17 13 20 22 – 72
Warren County 13 14 16 17 – 60
NW WHITFIELD (72) – King 4, McDaniel 8, Bailey 6, Whisnant 1, Horne, Oshea Hill 15, Bramlett, Caleb Storey 12, Tanner Quarles 20, Stanley 6.
WARREN CO. (60) – League 2, Carden, Rutledge 9, Tucker Smith 27, Edgar Morales 10, Clark 1, Taylor, Kelley, Jennings 9.
3-point goals: NWW 9 (Quarles 6, Storey 2, McDaniel); WC 2 (Rutledge, Jennings). Records: NWW 10-3; WC 10-10.
Girls 3rd Place
Rhea County 10 15 6 15 8 – 54
Loretto 14 11 9 12 3 – 49
RHEA CO. (54) – Revis 6, Freeman 4, Miles, Wallis 3, Mitchell, Amber Levi 13, Julie Brown 16, Whitney Thompson 13, Loder.
LORETTO (49) – Rachel Burden 10, Johns 5, Huntley 3, Santiago 2, Moore 4, Sabrine Sirmones 16, Brodie 4, Littrell 5.
3-point goals: RC 8 (Thompson 3, Brown 2, Revis, Wallis, Levi); Loretto 5 (five with one each). Record: Rhea County 14-3.
Boys 5th Place
Lincoln County 18 14 12 19 – 63
Rhea County 14 21 7 17 – 59
LINCOLN CO. (63) – Xavier Talley-Hyde 10, Hadley 4, Christian 8, Ty Lewter 12, Jones, 5, B.J. Thompson 12, Shane Blackwell 10, Malone 2.
RHEA CO. (59) – G. Hill 3, Jalen Smih 34, Harrison 2, Nick McWhorter 12, Laden 3, Jenkikns 4, L. Hill 1.
3-pt. Goals: LC 7 (Talley-Hyde 2, Chrisatian 2, Lewter 2, Jones), RC 4 (Smith 3, McWhorter).
Girls 5th Place
Central 10 9 7 8 – 34
Warren County 17 7 14 9 – 47
CENTRAL (34) – Shemiyah Jones 10, McReynolds, Rogers, Davis 2, Powell, Sandrea Sylman 11, Corely 8, Mitchell 3, Prater, N. Jones.
WARREN CO. (47)
3-point goals:.Central none; Warren County 6.
Girls 7th Place
Lookout Valley 6 9 5 0 – 20
Hixson 16 10 13 17 – 56
LOOKOUT VALLEY (20) – Walker 4, Mitchell, McBee 5, Taylor, Hall 2, Evers 9.
HIXSON (56) – Marissa Hill 12, Taylor 3, Ty Harmon 28, Staten 9, Slaughter 2, Nelson, McClellan 2, Fernandez, Newberry.
3-point goals: LV 2 (McBee, Evers); Hixson 6 (Harmon 5, Hill).