Town Crier Sports Staff
After playing Hughes to the wire in both games they had this season, losing each one by only two points, the Junior Lions expected that they could make the third time a charm at Harrisburg last Thursday night in the 3A-3 district tournament.
The Junior Blue Devils had other ideas, however, as they blew open a close game in the second half for a 49-22 victory to advance to the finals Saturday against EPC.
"We played them last Friday," said coach John Deaton. "And we played them real close, but we just didn't get the shots tonight. And Hughes was playing better tonight. It was like we ran into a buzzsaw after the half. It just kind of shocked us and we couldn't recover."
From the beginning it looked as if the Devils were going to settle the matter early as they hit two quick three-pointers to open a 6-0 lead before 1:00 had elapsed in the game. Finally Garrett Scott responded with a field goal to cut the lead to 6-2. Jeremy Goff cut it further when he hit for two of his team-leading eight points.
Hughes quickly responded with six straight points of their own to take a 12-4 lead with 1:22 left. Then with some :30 left in the quarter, Tracey Reinhart stole an errant Devil pass and went the distance for his only score of the night. He drew the foul but was unable to get it to drop leaving Hughes in front by six, 12-6.
Hughes then hit their final two points of the quarter for a 14-6 lead.
The second period opened with the expectation that the Junior Blue Devils would continue their dominance, but, in fact, they didn't score their first point of the period until the 2:30 mark. In that time, Ken Ashabranner scored his two buckets of the night, the second on a steal of an inbounds pass and a fast break down the court to close the deficit to four, 14-10.
The remainder of the half saw both teams score four more points to help Manila stay within striking distance, 18-14, at the break.
"We had it close at the half," Deaton continued. "But we just turned it over too much at the beginning of the third quarter."
The Junior Lions, in fact, turned the ball over three times in succession to begin the half with the Junior Blue Devils putting up six straight points. Then when Manila finally got a shot off, Hughes grabbed the rebound and dropped in a trey for a 27-14 lead with just 2:57 gone in the period.
Deaton called timeout to try to settle and regroup his players. The result was a bucket by Goff to help break the drought. Hughes sent the ball up on the next play and Manila was first to the rebound this time.
The Junior Lions sailed to the other end of the court and sent up three straight shots, getting the board after each one. Finally, Hughes grabbed the ball and drew the foul at the other end dropping both shots for a 29-16 lead.
Manila wasn't giving up, though, as when Reinhart sent up a shot which glanced off the rim, Goff rose above the Hughes players to grab the ball and put it back into the basket for a 29-18 score with 2:00 remaining in the third period.
The final seconds of the half saw the Junior Devils score six points to Manila's three and the two teams entered the final stanza with Hughes up 37-21.
The final period saw Ashabranner gain his fifth foul about the midway point of the quarter and Manila able to put in only four points while Hughes dropped in another 12. In the end, Manila was clearly worn out from the battle as the Junior Blue Devils scored almost at will.
Scott followed Goff in points with six while Ashabranner and Dalton Burrows score four each and Levi Wallace had one.
For Hughes, Smith had 15, Montgomery 11 and Doolittle 10.
"I'm proud of these kids," concluded Deaton regarding the game and the season. "We finished with a 19-9 record and fourth in one of the toughest conferences around. We battled to the end of every game all year long. These kids have a lot to be proud of as well. We return all but one player so we look good for next year."