By David Rogers. December 22, 2016. MORAVIAN FALLS, NC — The cardiac kids outdid themselves.
Back on December 5th, Watauga’s men’s basketball team rallied from a 20-point first half deficit to beat Wilkes Central, 76-75, at Lentz Eggers Gym in Boone. Thursday night — in the back end of what has become a traditional non-conference home-and-away rivalry — Watauga’s Pioneers trailed the same Eagles by 23 points early in the third quarter.
And then the improbable: ignited by inspired play from guards Hamilton Castle and Bryant Greene, Watauga rallied to tie the game for the first time at 55-55 with under 1 minute to play, then seized the moment to score five points more while clipping the Eagles defensively for a final score of 60-55.
In the first half, nothing seemed to go right for the Pioneers, right from the get-go. The team’s offensive star of the season so far, Greene was held to just two points in the first half. Shots caromed off the Watauga rim like pinballs unable to find a hole. Mis-dribbles, balls kicked away, passes to nobody. The Pioneers were in full speed reverse.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the court it was raining “threes,” thanks to four 3-pointers in the 2nd quarter alone by Eagle guard Skylar Brooks and a solo “trey” in the first period by Jay Boddie.
Watauga head coach Rob Sanders should win an award for inspirational halftime speeches.
“At halftime,” Castle told Blowing Rock News after the game, “Coach Sanders challenged us to dig deep for heart, passion and a will to win.”
Down 37-19 when the fans were getting popcorn and sodas, Watauga unburied that will. with 3:44 to go in the third quarter, the Pioneers were still down by 18, but momentum had shifted. By the end of the third period, Watauga had outscored Wilkes Central in the quarter, 23-9, with tenacious defense and strong rebounding to jumpstart a transition attack. On the short track that is Wilkes Central (74 feet long compared to 84 feet at Lentz Eggers and 94 feet at the Holmes Center), it didn’t take long to get to the other end on attack.
Suddenly, the Pioneer muskets were hitting their mark – and the Eagles were kept at bay.
After scoring 14 points in the first half, Brooks hit just one three in the 3rd period and was held scoreless in the final stanza. The Eagles’ Zach Shumate scored just four points before intermission, but picked up some of the Wilkes Central slack in the second half with 11 points, 9 of them in the 4th quarter. But Shumate couldn’t turn the Pioneers’ second half tide by himself — and Watauga outpointed the Eagles 41-18 after the break.
With the loss, Wilkes Central falls to 6-3 on the season overall (3-0 in Mountain Valley Conference play), while the Pioneers’ record pokes above .500 for the first time, to 5-4 overall while their Northwestern Conference record remains at 1-1.
Watauga has a Colvard Oil Classic tournament game against West Caldwell on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, hosted by Ashe County, at 2:30 pm.