The early season has taken its toll on the Hixson Wildcats basketball team.
With two starters out with injury, another left behind due to illness, and a battle with high-energy Central on tap Tuesday evening, the trip across the river had the makings of a long night for head coach Lawanza Crutcher and his 0-5 squad.
The Pounders found out early, though, that a Wildcat backed into a corner isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Hixson, with just seven players in uniform, scored the final 12 points in the first quarter, led by four at the half, and had the lead with five minutes to go before finally wilting away in a 54-47 loss in the District 6-2A battle.
“We played hard, but we just didn’t play smart at times,” Crutcher said after the final horn.
Did they ever.
Central utilized a 10-player rotation, and to its credit, used a full-court press that not only produced 27 Hixson turnovers, but took a devastating toll on the winded Wildcats down the stretch.
I’m not sure they (Hixson) knew what to expect tonight, but after it got going they sort of looked at us and said, ‘if you’re not going to play tonight, then we will,”’ said Central coach Rick Rogers.
“Just because you are losing games, doesn’t mean you are losing. I take my hat off to them. I was hoping we could wear their legs down. When you lose your legs, you lose some of your fundamentals. It certainly paid off to some extent for us,” Rogers added.
But not before Hixson (0-6, 0-3) punched the Pounders in the gut. Four different Wildcats led a 12-0 run to end the first period to break from a 6-6 tie and make it 18-6 after the first horn. The Wildcats hit eight of 13 shots, forced eight Central turnovers and quite honestly had the attention of everyone in purple and gold.
“We were shell-shocked,” admitted Rogers. “We just didn’t show up, and they didn’t seem to mind the fact that we didn’t.”
Central got two quick buckets from Brett Abshire which quickly brought a Hixson timeout. Rogers used it to set his full-court press in motion and Central forced eight turnovers over the next five minutes, closing the half on a 10-6 run after the timeout to cut it to 24-20 at the break.
“The pressure got to us. It did. We played with our heads down and you have to be able to see what is happening, and you can’t do it with your heads down. It did what it was supposed to do, so you have to credit them for that,” Crutcher said.
Hixson opened the second half with slick Ruben Snow scoring three times on backdoor cuts and got it to 30-23 before Central reeled off an 11-0 run to takes its first lead in the game. Jerrod Bibbs’ spin move on the post, drew a foul and on his made field goal, and the three-point play made it 32-30 with 3:45 left in the third.
The Wildcats had worked too hard with their limited lineup to go away easily, though, an despite turnover after turnover, got it back to 48-47 when Terry Moorer nailed a long 3-pointer with just 1:26 left in the game. It was the last field goal Hixson would score, however, as Central converted 4-of-6 free throws after an Abshire layup for the game’s final six points.
“We did a good job down the stretch. We were finally able to stop their high-low post game, but it wasn’t easy. That No. 22 (Moorer) for them is really a nice player. He is so quick and he did things tonight that won’t show up in the scorebook, but they were impressive,” Rogers said.
Moorer led all scorers with his 20 points and Snow teamed up down low for another 18 to score all but nine of Hixson’s points. Neither team shot particularly well with Hixson hitting 44 percent (21-of-48) from the floor and Central making just 40 percent (21-of-53) of its shots. The Pounders did make nine-of-15 free throws to Hixson’s three-of-five showing at the line.
“I thought the biggest difference for us was we took better care of the ball after the half. We are a young team and we are learning. We ran the offense better after that first period where we got a little too one-on-one oriented. It’s early, but I’m happy to have survived this one,” Rogers added.
After 13 first-half turnovers, Central only pitched it away three times in the second half and none in the final period. Hixson, meanwhile, had 14 turnovers in the first and 13 in the second half.
Central (2-1, 2-1) got 17 points from Trey Owten and guard Marcus Tankersley (13) and Abshire (12) combined for 25.
Central girls 38, Hixson 33: Janya West scored 23 of Central's 38 points and the Lady Pounders managed to stave off the Hixson girls, 38-33 in the District 6-2A battle.
West hit a big 3-pointer to give Central a 36-33 lead and Hixson wound up with eight turnovers and four missed free throws down the stretch as both squads struggled in the final period. Between the two of them, there were 20 turnovers in the quarter.
ZaRiya Hunter led Hixson (1-4, 1-2) with 17 points and Kirby Brown added 11. Central is now 2-1 on the young season and 2-1 in district play.
HIXSON 18 6 12 11 -- 47
CENTRAL 6 14 19 15 -- 54
Hixson (47) – Long 5, Alemeda, Snow 18, Smith 4, Moorer 20, Berrier, Jones.
Central (54) – Tankersley 13, Owten 17, Reid, McKibbens 5, Payne, Abshire 12, Jackson, Isom, Ervin, Bibbs 7.
3-point goals: Hixson 2 (Moorer, Long); Central 1 (Owten)
HIXSON 9 7 14 3 -- 33
CENTRAL 6 12 13 7 -- 38
Hixson (33) -- Crutcher, Taylor 1, Nakata, Strickland 2, Hunter 17, Brown 11, Hobbs 2
Central (38) -- Simpson, Stokes 2, Offman 4, West 23, Harrington 2, Traylor 6, Vaulx 1.
3-pointers: Hixson 3 (Hunter 2, Brown); Central 1 (West).
(Email James Beach at email@example.com)