The strangest 48 hours in the career of Central head basketball coach Rick Rogers and his Purple Pounders came to a triumphant conclusion Monday night, in the consolation final of the District 6-AA tournament.
Finding himself wide open on the wing, Central senior Colton Morgan glanced at the diminishing clock, took steady aim and buried a 3-pointer as the final buzzer went off. The Central crowd exploded -- even though it was not a game-winning shot.
The trey, Morgan's third of the game, actually was the final nail in a 63-53 comeback win over the Tyner Rams which, in an odd way, was even better. It marked the end of a roller-coaster weekend that began with a demolition of East Hamilton on its own court, an embarrassing loss to Howard in Friday's semifinals and then even more drama at Monday's morning practice.
"Four seniors were late for practice and two starters didn't show up at all," Rogers said. "And you know? We had a great practice. The five guys who started tonight, showed up, wanted to be there and they played great.
"I am so proud of them," Rogers added. "This team has been unpredictable all season, be it losing to Red Bank or beating Howard. But never in my wildest dreams did I expect anything like tonight. This win was our seniors' first ever win over Tyner."
Even though Rogers' makeshift starting lineup played the game even for much of the first quarter, Rams guard Sadik Spence caught fire. His 15 first-half points helped Tyner build a 12-point lead in the second quarter, but the Purple Pounders -- with the tardy players all gradually inserted into the game -- cut the gap to six at the half and just two, 40-38, going into the fourth quarter.
Dewaun Swafford, who was held back for a quarter, spun down the lane for a layup and Morgan followed by a 3-pointer to give Central its first lead of the night, 43-42. Suddenly, of the the Pounders' problems were history.
"Getting that lead, then making them foul us, was huge," said Morgan. "Everyone contributed tonight, even those of us who usually don't get in."
Rogers, who discarded his usual substitute patterns for this one, had one more catastrophe to solve -- primary ball-handler and leading scorer Swafford fouled out with more than two minutes to play and Central trailing 50-48. He called on freshman Tevan Hayes, who had not been off the bench Monday.
"He's the future of this program," Rogers said. "He's our starting point guard next year. Swafford is the guy who pushes us to win, so we still had to had to find that."
The leadership came from Morgan, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, but the ball found Hayes in the final minute. The freshman coolly nailed two foul shots that gave Central a 56-53 lead. After uncharacteristic back-to-back Tyner turnovers -- and a technical foul for having six players on the floor -- the Central lead grew from the line, as the Pounders drove in a few final nails with 6 of 8 foul shots in the final 28 seconds.
Central scored the final 11 points of the game, as Tyner failed to convert a field goal in the final 4:00.
Rogers knows he could have taken a harder line with his no-shows, who claimed they were unable to secure a ride on the school holiday.
"They've all be dedicated to the program, and it's not typical at all for it to happen," he said. "We only have 1-2 players who actually have cars to drive, and sometimes rides can't be had. That said, they had two days to find one."
Morgan scored 16 and Swafford 15 for the 16-9 Pounders, but Rogers was happiest about 11 different players scoring in the win. Spence led 18-8 Tyner with 19 points, while Jemicah Bowman added 10. Both teams will have to play road games in the first round of Region 3-AA against District 5-AA opponents to be the determined.
Lady Rams Avoid Meeting With McMinn Centra
The phrase "Dodge Chargers" means:
1) The great American muscle cars of the 1970s; 2) inspirational cheer for people who shun credit cards or 3) The goal of the teams playing in Monday's Class 6-AA consolation final. With mighty McMinn Central ruling the roost in 5-AA, a road trip to Inglewood was on the agenda for Monday's loser.
That turned out to the goal accomplished by the Lady Rams, who put four players in double figures to defeat Brainerd 64-49 for third place in Distric 6-AA. Both teams will travel in their first-round region game, specifics to be learned Wednesday.
Mia Smith led the 10-16 Lady Rams with a sensational 15-point first half, finishing the night with 19. Kesha Parks nailed three 3-pointers en route to 15 points, Porcha Turner pounded the boards to have 10 points and a double-double and Juanita Montgomery also scored 10.
The Lady Panthers (13-13) got 23 points from freshman Jamee Ward and 13 from Anisha Douglas.
District 6-AA Girls Consolation
Brainerd 11 17 9 12 -- 49
Tyner 16 13 21 13 -- 64
BRAINERD (49) -- Jamee Ward 24, Anisha Douglas 13, Walker 2, Woods 5, Rowland 4, Ellis, Robinson 1.
TYNER (64) -- Porcha Turner 10, Juanita Montgomery 10, Mia Smith 19, McElvain 3, Kesha Parks 15, Hines 5, Roberts, West.
3-point goals: Brainerd 7 (Ward 4, Douglas 3); Tyne 6 (Parks , McElvain, Smith, Turner). Records: Brainerd 13-13; Tyner 10-16.
District 6-AA Boys Consolation
Central 9 16 13 25 -- 63
Tyner 19 12 9 13 -- 56
CENTRAL (63) -- Hill 2, Colton Morgan 16, Smith 1, Billingsley 2, Lewis 2, Dewuan Swafford 15, Tiller 2, Cobb 2, Hayes 2, Montgomery, Stewart 6, David Holley 13.
TYNER (56) -- L. Rollins 3, Sadik Spence 19, Jemichah Bowman 10, Bridgemann 8, Watkins, D. Rollins, Hardwick 3, Waller 4, Watson 6, Jones.
3-point goals: Central 4 (Morgan 3, Swafford); Tyner 6 (Spence 3, Bowman 2, L. Rollins). Records: Central 16-9; Tyner 18-8.