By David Rogers. January 27, 2020. BOONE, NC — On the surface, top-seeded Blowing Rock’s dominating, 37-11 “showtime” win over #4 Cove Creek in the Watauga County boys middle school basketball semifinals at Lentz Eggers Gym produced few storylines. Look deeper, and there is a lot more to talk about with this 2020 edition of the Rockets.
COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock’s Sam Nixon “shoots two” in the first half of the Rockets’ semifinal game vs. Cove Creek Monday night at Lentz-Eggers Gym. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
In the third quarter, with the Blowing Rock starters on the bench enjoying a 29-4 halftime lead, Rockets head coach Todd Hartley emptied his bench much as he did in so many games during the regular season. And the reserves didn’t disappoint. They held the Raiders SCORELESS for the entire third stanza with pestering, disruptive defense and expanded on the lead just a little bit, to 33-4, before finishing the game at 37-11.
From a team perspective, it deepens our roster.
In short, because they got so much court time during the regular season, the guys coming off the bench to mop up have been able to significantly enhance their skills and teamwork in Hartley’s tough defense, transition basketball system.
“If anything,” Hartley acknowledged to Blowing Rock News afterward, “the fact that the bench players have gotten so much court time this season says a lot about our starters. They get the job done early and it leaves time for the guys to come off the bench. Those guys come on the court and play just as hard as the starters do. It’s a good mix.
“From a team perspective,” Hartley added, “it deepens our roster so that when the time comes for us to say, ‘next man up’ because someone gets injured or has to be absent, we don’t have a measurable dropoff in talent, experience, and skill on the floor. The transition to new personnel is virtually seamless.”
WE are a defense-first team. Defense starts our offense.
One of the keys to Blowing Rock’s blowout victory was the team’s periodic utilization of full court pressure on defense, often forcing Cove Creek turnovers.
“Our whole goal going into the game,” recalled Hartley, “was defense. We have been working on that all year. That is what starts our offense. We are a defense-first team.”
Blowing Rock’s dominant, first half scattering of the Raiders came right at the get-go when Kohout pulled up from the left side and rocked the net from beyond the three-point arc. He continued to flex his presence, inside and outside, eventually finishing with a game-high 14 points, all in the first half. None of the Rockets’ starters took the floor in the second half.
Morgan Henry supported the first-half onslaught with 6 points, while Sam Nixon added 5 points and Bennett Brown, 4. Starting point guard Grant Troyer didn’t score but did a masterful job of bringing the ball downcourt and distributing the ball generously to his playmaker teammates.
Of the reserves, Micah Duvall (2 points), Fran Miranda (2), Andrew Hill (1), Will Kirkland, and Brodie Sukow (2) were active on the perimeter and especially Miranda and Duvall were effective inside while driving to the basket or rebounding on both ends of the court. Tall, lanky Ayden Knight held his own in the lane, clearing the boards to secure Rocket possessions.
A competitive mindset permeates this Blowing Rock roster.
“We have a saying,” Hartley shared with Blowing Rock News. “It is what we preach all the time. It’s what happens when you step across the line and onto the court. Are you prepared to step across the line to play basketball? In your own mind, you have to be ready to play ball. Things can happen quick in a game. Those moments can be for you or against you and are influenced by how you step onto the court.”
Hartley acknowledged that the last game of the regular season, one of those “too-close-for-comfort” wins vs. Parkway, was a wakeup call for his young charges.
“Definitely that was a wake-up call for us,” Hartley noted. “I told my boys that it was ‘Senior Night’ and there was a lot going on before that game against Parkway. I reminded them that there is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. If you are confident, you know it and that is enough. If you are arrogant, you have to let everyone else know it. That night, we were flirting with being arrogant and we had to rein it back in and get back to being just a good, competent basketball team.”
Looking forward to Thursday night’s championship, Hartley had no “favorites” in who the Rockets might face in the final.
“As far as matching up,” he said, “I think we match up well with either team. Whoever we get, we will prepare for them and be ready to compete as best we can.”
In Thursday evening’s final game of the 2020 Watauga middle school season, Blowing Rock will take on Parkway in a 6:30 pm championship tilt at Lentz-Eggers Gym at Watauga High School. Parkway survived a second-half challenge by Hardin Park to win the nailbiter, 33-31, and earn the right to play the Rockets in Thursday’s championship final.
- BR – Wyatt Kohout (14)
- BR – Morgan Henry (6)
- BR – Sam Nixon (5)
- BR – Bennett Brown (4)
- CC – Nathan Gutschall (4)
- CC – Seth Greene (3)
- CC – Anthony Mundez (3)
- BR – Micah Duvall (2)
- BR – Fran Miranda (2)
- BR – Brodie Sukow (2)
- BR – Andrew Hill (1)
- CC – Kade Maiden (1)
BOYS SEMIFINAL SCORES
- #1 Blowing Rock 37, #4 Cove Creek 11
- #2 Parkway 33, #3 Hardin Park 31