By David Rogers. January 30, 2020. BOONE, NC — A third time proved not the charm for Parkway middle school boys basketball. The Patriots lost to the still undefeated Blowing Rock Rockets in a heart-wrenching nailbiter, 37-34, in front of a standing-room only crowd at Lentz-Eggers Gym for the Watauga Middle Schools Basketball Championship finale.
COVER IMAGE: Right after the final buzzer sounded and the win was complete, Blowing Rock’s entire roster rushed the floor in celebration. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blowing Rock would probably fear facing Parkway a fourth time. With the championship win, the Rockets complete the three-game sweep of the Patriots in 2019-20, but each matchup has gotten successively more competitive. Blowing Rock blasted past Parkway, 45-13 in their first matchup on December 5th, but the Patriots nearly won the rematch on January 16th. The Rockets eventually prevailed, 44-37, but not before the lead changed hands seven times in the second half alone.
No doubt that near-win gave the Parkway front liners ample confidence that they could play with the top-seeded Blowing Rock bunch. As expected, the Patriots’ trio of guards provided most of their team’s firepower. Maddox Greene finished with 11 points, Cade Keller 10, and Jameson Hodges, seven. Jackson Pryor added six for the night.
Although Rockets head coach Todd Hartley reported to Blowing Rock News after the game that Parkway “…had figured us out…,” the young, smaller Patriots didn’t have enough answers for Blowing Rock’s size and experience across its roster. Wyatt Kohout finished with a game-high 19 points, while fellow “big man” (both are 6+ feet tall 8th graders) Morgan Henry added nine and guard/forward Sam Nixon, eight points.
Blowing Rock led by as many as eight points, 19-11, with 1:15 left in the first half and faced other deficits as the game went on, but Parkway kept fighting back. The Patriots took their first lead at 22-21 midway in the third period after an 11-2 run, then led by four points, 27-23, with just 1:50 left in the third quarter. Forty-one seconds later, the Rockets tied the game at 27-27.
All told, there four lead changes in the final stanza before Blowing Rock finally took control. Parkway’s last lead: 34-31 at the 2:40 mark of the fourth quarter. In the waning minutes, with the Rockets ahead 37-34, Blowing Rock nation’s knees were nervously knocking together as Parkway had multiple chances to tie or go ahead.
“I can’t speak highly enough,” Parkway head coach Grady McKinney said to Blowing Rock News after the game, “about the heart that my players have exhibited. They work hard in practice and they stay focused. They create very positive and uplifting atmosphere for basketball at Parkway.
“I hate to see us lose in the end like this,” McKinney continued, “but I told them after the game that this was NOT the end, but the beginning of a new chapter in their basketball lives. We will take this experience with us and work even harder, and that is not just for this school’s basketball team, but for every sport they compete in for the rest of their lives.”
Asked about any special preparations, McKinney admitted, “We tried to shut down one of their better players and switch some things around. I think we were even better organized than last time.”
Blowing Rock head coach Todd Hartley was gracious in assessing his evening’s opponent.
“My first take away,” Hartley said, laughing (nervously), ” is that I am glad we don’t have to play Parkway a fourth time this year!
“You have to give Parkway credit,” the Blowing Rock coach continued. “They came out with a game plan. They figured us out some. They took away the short corner that we run most of our offense through. Their kids stepped up and they had a great season, too. Their only losses were to us.”
In assessing his team’s play and what they had to do to pull of this win, Hartley was point-blank honest.
“This was one of those nights where things didn’t go smoothly,” he recalled. “Rebounding, for example, was a bit messy. Our transition game starts with good defense, but clean rebounding on the defensive end is a necessity in order to get those crisp outlet passes to the guards on the perimeter and get a fast break going. We did well rebounding, but it wasn’t clean. Everything seemed a bit muffled. You have to give Parkway credit, too, for clogging up those lanes. Sometimes you have nights like that and you have to find ways to win, which we did tonight.”
When Blowing Rock News made a point about all of the traveling calls against both teams, Hartley replied, “You know, that’s funny. I made a comment at one point to the scorekeeper that I hadn’t seen this many traveling calls all season. We played 15 games and didn’t see this many guys flagged for walking.
“I am just extremely proud of this team,” Hartley said in conclusion. “They come to practice every day. They are great young men to be around. There were no issues. It was just a great season. They bought in early and believed in what we do. I am so proud of these kids who put in the work and thankful for the parents who help out.”
When Blowing Rock News pointed out that he was not able to go as deep into his roster in this nip-and-tuck close game, Hartley was quick to say, “It is so beneficial when you can give court time to your younger up and coming players who may not be ready for primetime, but they get to play when it matters. They get to play in an important game and they have to make the play. The more opportunities we are able to give them, the better we are going to be. Our starters in earlier games provided those opportunities and those guys coming off the bench for so much court time got better as a result. They don’t just play better in games, but they push all of their teammates to do better, too, especially the starters.
“Rest assured,” Hartley said, “this win wasn’t just by the top seven or so that got court time tonight. It was a win by every player on the roster, from 1 to 15. They love each other. They play for each other. They treat everyone the same. It is great how they work together.”
- BR – Wyatt Kohout (19)
- PKY – Maddox Greene (11)
- PKY – Cade Keller (10)
- BR – Morgan Henry (9)
- BR – Sam Nixon (8)
- PKY – Jameson Hodges (7)
- PKY – Jackson Pryor (6)
- BR – Ayden Knight (1)