Town Crier Sports Staff
2A-3 North Conference Most Valuable Player Steven Meredith drilled 5-6 free throws in the final 23 seconds to help Earle hold off Riverside and claim the 2A-North Regional Championship with a thrilling 67-63 victory Saturday night at Cross County.
Meredith scored Earle's final seven points of the game, as the Bulldogs withstood a furious second half comeback by the Rebels.
Riverside trailed by double digits on two difference occasions during the night, but rallied both times and finally pulled within one point when senior Travis Mays drilled a three pointer out of the right corner with 2:08 left in the game to pull the Rebels to within 60-59.
Meredith answered with a running five footer at the 1:53 mark to push the Earle lead back to three, but Garrett Weaver closed the gap to 62-61 with an offensive stick-back at the 1:35 mark. Mays rebounded a Meredith miss on the Earle's next possession, giving Riverside an opportunity to take the lead, but the Rebels turned the ball over at the 59 second mark underneath their own goal.
Earle went into a stall offense and ran the clock down to 23 seconds before the Rebels were forced to foul Meredith. The slick senior sank the front end of the one and one, but missed the bonus. The Bulldogs came away with the rebound, and the Rebels were forced to foul again, sending Meredith back to the line. Meredith sank both ends of the one and one, giving Earle a 65-61 lead with 20 seconds to go.
Glen Graham's offensive stick-back with 10 seconds left pulled the Rebels to within
65-63, but Meredith put the game away by connecting on both ends of the one and one with 6.8 seconds left to secure the championship for the Bulldogs.
"We lost our composure totally in the early going, but Earle had a lot to do with that," said Riverside Coach Buster Campbell. "They were shooting lights out. We can't let them have those type of runs. We came back from the dead twice, so it shows you what we are capable of. I am proud of the team. I think we have a good chance in next week's state tournament. We won't see anyone down there any better than Earle."
Earle took a 23-11 lead at the end of the first period, after Riverside opened the game with back to back treys from Weaver and Casey Hook to take a 6-0 lead. The Bulldogs took a 38-28 advantage into the dressing room at the half and stretched their margin to 57-43 after three quarters. Earle's biggest lead of the night was 16 points at the 1:29 mark of the third quarter, but Riverside stormed from behind in the final frame before falling just short at the end.
Weaver led Riverside with 21 points while Graham had 15 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Cody Richardson finished with 10 points. Bradley Tucker netted eight, Hook scored six, while Mays added three. The Rebels hit 18-25 free throws and drilled seven three pointers.
Earle was led by Corbin McKenzie who scored 14 points. Meredith finished with 11 while Darron Weeden tallied 10. The Bulldogs hit 9-14 from the foul line and nailed eight three pointers.
Riverside claimed their spot in the state tournament Thursday night in first round action with a 79-66 victory over White County. Garrett Weaver poured in a game high 38 points, including six treys, while Glen Graham recorded a double-double with 20 points and 12 boards. Bradley Tucker scored eight, Casey Hook tallied seven, Cody Richardson netted five points and dished out nine assists, while Blake Hogan added one point. Riverside hit 20-32 free throws and drilled seven three pointers.
Jeremy Edward pumped in 34 points while Kendall Chasteen scored 12. The Bears hit
6-13 free throws and nailed eight three pointers.
Riverside jumped to a 20-7 first period lead and took a 40-25 advantage into the dressing room at the half. The Rebels led 51-38 after three quarters.