Clinton’s varsity Dark Horses squared off against the Cedar Ridge Red Wolves on Tuesday night for the championship of the Dark Horse Holiday Classic. Clinton head coach Randy Jordan said after Monday’s game that this would be a good match-up, his assessment turned out to be an understatement.
The two evenly matched teams played a back and forth battle that was not decided until the last half minute of the game when Clinton overcame a late game 3-point deficit to take the 76-71 win and the tournament title.
The Dark Horses led by one,19-18, after the first quarter of play as each team seemed to be sizing up the other like two heavyweight prize fighters. Clinton opened up a six point lead midway through the second quarter but Cedar Ridge was not deterred. The Red Wolves reeled off nine unanswered points to take a 32-29 lead before Clinton dialed up the pressure on defense and closed out the half with an 11-3 run to go into the break with a 40-35 lead.
Clinton reeled off five unanswered points to open the second half and held their biggest lead of the game at 45-35 and seemed to be taking command of the game. But once again the Red Wolves came roaring back hitting two 3-pointers during an 8-0 run to trim the Clinton lead to two at 45-43 with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter. Clinton was able to slow down the Cedar Ridge charge and clung to a 57-53 lead at the end of the third frame.
The Red Wolves knotted the score at 57 apiece early in the fourth quarter, forcing two Clinton turnovers, to seize the momentum before Clinton’s Jaalen Best hit a three pointer at 6:53 to give the lead back to the Dark Horses at 60-57. Jaquan McLean’s three from the corner at the 5:15 mark put Clinton up by four at 63-59 but once again the Red Wolves rallied, tying the game at 65-65 with just over three minutes to play on a Khalil Barnett three pointer.
Cedar Ridge took their first lead of the second half at the 2:40 mark when Payton Pappas drove the lane, banked in a tough shot and drew the foul. After he sank the free throw the Red Wolves had a 68-67 lead and looked to have the Dark Horses on their heels. The teams swapped baskets on their next two possessions and Cedar Ridge appeared content to milk some time off the clock. But a mental lapse cost the Wolves dearly as they turned the ball over on a three second violation at the 1:15 mark giving the Dark Horses a chance to regain the lead.
Tournament MVP, E J Howard put a dagger in the Red Wolves hopes when he took an entry pass on the left block, spun to the basket and scored from close range, and was fouled on the play. Howard calmly sank the free throw to give Clinton the 72-70 lead with 42 seconds remaining in the game. The Red Wolves had a chance to tie on their next possession when Peyton Pappas went to the free throw line for two shots but missed both. An over the back foul on the free throw rebound sent Clinton’s Logan Batchelor to the line with a chance to put the game away with 22 seconds remaining, and he did just that, sinking both free throws and giving the Dark Horses a four point lead and erasing any doubt about the outcome of the game.
Cedar Ridge guard, Payton Pappas led all scorers with 22 points. The Dark Horses were led by E J Howard’s 16 points and Xavier Howard’s 15. Jeremiah Pope added 10 points and J J Robertson chipped in 7 points for the Horses. Clinton’s Logan Batchelor garnered all-tournament honors and E J Howard was named tournament MVP. Joining Batchelor on the all-tournament team were Payton Pappas and Jacob Thomas of Cedar Ridge, Sherman Logan from Bartlet Yancy and CB Aycock’s Cameron Kornegay. Bartlett Yancy was awarded the sportsmanship trophy.
After the game, Clinton head coach, Randy Jordan commented on the hard earned win, saying, “This was a great win for our team. At half time we talked about being disciplined, both physically and mentally, we had to rebound better and we had to take the middle away from them on the press, and we did all three things in the second half. We showed some maturation today,” said the Dark Horse head man. “I thought that our older players, the juniors and seniors, really stepped up and made some big plays for us in the last two minutes of the game. I really liked our mental and physical toughness today. The guys are growing as a team and really starting to trust each other.”
The win over Cedar Ridge improves Clinton’s record to 7-3 overall and 2-0 in conference play. Tuesday’s game was the final warm-up before Clinton dives into the meat of their Four County Conference Schedule. The Dark Horses will return to action next week when they travel to Spivey’s Corner for a conference game with rival Midway on Monday night
Reach Mike Carter at [email protected]