Clinton and First Flight squared off in a first round playoff match-up at Faison Gymnasium on Tuesday night. The teams entertained the crowd playing at a frenetic pace that made it hard to keep up with the action at times.
The Nighthawks matched Clinton’s pressing style of play step for step in the first half, taking advantage of a cold first half shooting performance by the Dark Horses to build an early advantage. But in the end the talented Horses proved to be more than the Nighthawks could handle as Clinton rallied for the 74-60 opening round win.
The Nighthawks opened the game with a barrage of three pointers, hitting 5 long range bombs in the opening minutes, building a 14-4 lead as the Horses struggled to get the ball in the hoop. With baskets hard to come by, the Dark Horses dug in on defense, getting points off turnovers to cut the visitor’s lead to five at 22-17 by the end of the first frame.
The Hawks held the Dark Horses at bay for most of the second quarter keeping the margin at five to seven points until the waning moments of the first half. The Dark Horses took advantage of two First Flight turnovers to score two at the free throw line and when Jeremiah Pope pumped in a three pointer inside the five second mark of the half, the Dark Horses were within two points at the half, 38-36.
The fast paced play continued in the second half as the teams slugged it out on near even terms for most of the third quarter. In the closing moments of the third quarter Clinton stormed ahead to take their largest lead of the game at 57-52, as they were heading into the final frame.
Clinton’s deep bench finally took its toll in the fourth quarter. The Nighthawks seemed to lose their legs and the Dark Horses pounced on the opportunity to surge ahead by 10 with just over two minutes to play. The Nighthawks were forced to try and extend the game by fouling but the Horses were up to the task as senior Logan Batchelor calmly sank four free throws and hit two short range shots down the stretch to help put the game away for the Dark Horses.
Logan Batchlor and Jeremiah Pope each scored 17 points to lead the Dark Horses. Xavier Howard had another big game with 15 points and 11 boards. J J Robertson came off the bench to contribute 7 points and haul in 11 rebounds for Clinton. First Flight’s Jack Kostanzer led all scorers with 21 points.
After the game Clinton head coach Randy Jordan said, “we didn’t play very tough in the first half, not very physical and we just didn’t play very good on defense. We came out in the first half in a 3-2 trap and it just didn’t work. In the second half we went to a straight man to man defense and pounded the ball down inside. We went to our strengths. I am very proud of the way we played in the second half, our guys worked hard and it paid off.”
Seniors Logan Batchelor and E J Howard commented on the first round win with Batchelor saying “I was pretty upset that we let them hang around like we did, I just wanted to be able to play another game on Thursday so I knew we had to step it up.” Howard added “we sort of lost our composure early on but we came out after the half and took what the coaches told us and executed. I think we will be able to take this momentum we got tonight and move on.”
The win improves Clinton’s record to 19-8 on the year and sets up a second round match-up with cross county rival Midway on Thursday. The second round game at Clinton is set for a 7 p.m. tip.
Reach Mike Carter at [email protected]