Earlier in the week, Central coach Rick Rogers said he expected a prep basketball barn-burner when East Ridge paid the Pounders a visit on Friday.
The gymnasium is still standing, but the District 6-AA showdown lived up to its billing.
Central’s David Holley poured in a career-high 27 points, Colton Morgan hit a clutch 3-pointer in the final two minutes and the Pounders survived terrible free-throw shooting down the stretch to pull out a hotly-contested 62-59 victory over the Pioneers.
With the win, Central improved to 11-3 overall and 4-2 in District 6-AA. The Pounders are currently in third place behind Howard (5-1) and East Hamilton (3-1) and have won seven straight games and 10 of their last 11.
“It’s been four years since we’ve had a run anything like this,” Rogers said, “and I don’t think we’ve ever won 10 out of 11. I didn’t expect to do it against this schedule the way it is. We’re in the toughest district around and there are no cupcakes. We’re playing tough teams.”
Holley and East Ridge’s Eddie Hitchcock put on a scoring clinic in the first half that had an appreciative crowd oohing and aahing for the first 16 minutes.
Holley scored 20 points, including 12 in the second quarter, and made four of the Pounders’ five 3s before halftime.
“I came out loose and relaxed, just like coach (Rogers) told me to do,” said Holley, a 6-foot-3-inch senior. “I was having fun.”
Hitchcock, who missed 10 games earlier in the season with a sprained foot, had 17 first-half points and drained four of the Pioneers’ seven 3s as East Ridge built a 37-31 lead at the break.
“This was pretty fun,” he said, “because it’s a competition and that’s what we look forward to; it’s a challenge.”
Both teams made similar defensive changes after halftime and Holley managed just seven second-half points and Hitchcock scored five.
But, early on the two sharpshooters scorched the nets.
Hitchcock caught fire first.
The 6-1 senior forward made four 3s and had 10 points to lead the Pioneers to a 23-18 lead at the first break.
Holley then got hot.
He opened the second quarter with back-to-back 3s and eventually scored 12 straight points to get the Pounders even with the Pioneers at 30-30.
East Ridge (7-9, 3-4) outscored Central 7-1 in the quarter’s final 2:02 and went to halftime with a 37-31 advantage.
“David basically won the game for us in the first half because he kept us in the game,” said Rogers, who has been at Central 23 years and coached the Pounders for the last six. “They would have had a 15- or 20-point lead if it wasn’t for him.
“We have four guys averaging around 10 points. We play such good team ball we don’t care who scores. David just happened to be the guy tonight. He was feeling it and the other guys just kept getting him the ball. I could tell after he hit those first two he was on and I was saying just keep firing.”
Holley’s previous career high was 17 points last season, but he riddled East Ridge’s aggressive zone defense with sterling long-distance bombs and sliced the Pioneers up inside from layups, put-backs and rebounds to keep Central within striking distance.
“(Holley) wasn’t doing anything we weren’t expecting,” East Ridge coach Jon Goddard said. “We were being lazy on defense and didn’t get out on him to contest his (perimeter) shots. And we weren’t tough enough to step in there and take charges on him.”
Central, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 11 when Tyner posted a 60-48 win, scored the first six points of the third quarter and tied the game at 37-all. East Ridge scored the next six – Derrick Davidson had four points in the spurt – and built a 43-37 lead with 2:16 left in the quarter.
The Pounders outscored Hitchcock 7-3 in the final 1:49 of the period, including Dewuan Swafford’s 3, and trailed 46-44 going into the last quarter.
Holley, who came into the game averaging 11 points, made 3 of 4 free throws to start the final eight-minute period and had the Pounders even at 48. Hitchcock drained a jumper to give East Ridge a 50-48 lead and its free-throw issue suddenly cropped up.
Charles Hill, Swafford and Morgan all mised one freebie, but East Ridge’s Dominique Millener made two and the Pioneers were up, 52-48, with 5:45 remaining.
The Pounders’ Robert Cobb drove the baseline for a basket, Jerome Stewart hit a bucket, Swafford made a free throw and later broke loose for a one-handed dunk off a mid-court turnover and they were up, 55-54, with 3:36 on the clock.
“I kept looking up and it’s still a one-possession game and we’re missing all these free throws,” Rogers said. “That’s unusual. We don’t struggle from the free-throw line. This is the first issue we’ve had all year.”
In the second half, Central made just 10 of 22 free throws – the Pounders were 8 of 20 in the fourth quarter – and wound up 17 of 38 for the game.
East Ridge went 6 of 14 from the free-throw line.
Allen Green got a putback basket and East Ridge regained the lead at 56-55. Holley made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game again.
Twenty seconds later, the Pounders picked up a loose ball and found Morgan in the right corner. Morgan canned his second 3 of the game – he scored just six points – and Central had a 59-56 lead with 2:08 left.
“That was a big one,” Rogers said. “In this run we’re on we’ve had different guys step up. Dewuan has hit two game-winning shots to help keep things going.”
Holley missed two free throws at the 1:33 mark.
Swafford, who scored 11 points, made 1 of 2 freebies and the Pounders led 60-56 with 46.7 seconds remaining.
East Ridge’s Kolbe King calmly sank two free throws, Dontavius Hendrix added one and Central’s lead was down to 60-59 with 31.5 seconds showing.
Holley’s two free throws iced the game with 12.5 seconds remaining.
Davidson scored 11 points for East Ridge and King and Hendrix each had 10.
“Although we have all our guys back (from academic shortcomings and injuries), we still have a chemistry issue,” Goddard said. “That will come around with more games and more practices.”
Central girls 46, East Ridge 28: In a ragged game marred by combined 46 fouls and 60 free-throw attempts, the Lady Pounders hammered out a convincing win over the Lady Pioneers.
Shamiyah Jones and Sandrea Sylman each scored 13 points to lead Central (5-7, 3-2), which made 14 of 34 free throws.
Ieshia Taylor scored nine points for East Ridge (3-13, 1-6). The Lady Pioneers were 12 of 26 from the charity stripe.
East Ridge 8 8 6 6 – 28
Central 9 15 7 15 – 46
East Ridge (28) – Halfacre 6, Finley 4, Moon, Norwood 4, Taylor 9, Hubbard, Calloway, McKibben, Lawrence 5, Epps.
Central (46)– Shamiyah Jones 13, McReynolds, Rogers, Davis 3, Powell 4, Sandrea Sylman 13, Conley 9, Mitchell 4, Prater, Ransom.
3-Point Goals – East Ridge none; Central 2 (Conley 2).
East Ridge 23 14 9 13 – 59
Central 18 13 13 18 – 62
East Ridge (59) – Kolbe King 10, Green 2, Millener 2, Talley 2, Derrick Davidson 11, Eddie Hitchcock 22, Jones, Johnson, Dontavius Hendrix 10.
Central (62) – Dewuan Swafford 11, Cobb 8, Hill 2, Montgomery 1, Morgan 6, David Holley 27, Stewart 7, Trammell, Smith.
3-Point Goals – East Ridge 7 (Hitchcock 4, King 2, Davidson); Central 7 (Holley 4, Morgan 2, Swafford).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)