By David Rogers. January 16, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — After Blowing Rock outpointed Parkway 17-5 at the end of the first quarter in Thursday night’s regular season basketball finale, it looked like the 2019-20 edition of the Rockets would earn a new nickname: Gravediggers.
COVER IMAGE: Ayden Knight (44) and Wyatt Kohout (42) jump for joy after an inspiring win over Parkway to close out the 2019-20 regular season. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
But with the clock ticking down to zero at the end of the first half, Parkway’s Maddox Greene launched a desperation prayer from somewhere near Tanger Outlets that hit nothing but net. It completed an improbable rally by the visitors from Boone’s east side and set the tone for what became one of the most exciting — if not THE most exciting — middle school basketball games of the season.
The lead changed hands seven times in the second half and Parkway led by four at one point in this nailbiting barnburner. Eventually, though, the Rockets used strong defense to force Parkway turnovers — and capitalized on them just enough to walk away with a well-deserved 44-37 win.
The victory ensured that the “It’s Showtime!” Rockets closed out the Watauga Middle School league’s regular-season undefeated at 14-0, but it also showed that they are vulnerable when simply not focused on the task at hand.
Maybe it was the standing-room-only crowd that packed the stands and lined the walls around the court, creating a bedlam environment. Maybe it was the distraction of “senior night” recognition for the eighth graders — and Blowing Rock’s very special boys team is losing a bunch to graduation this year. But in the end, at least for this night, Parkway stood toe-to-toe with the Rockets and threatened the completion of a magical season.
After Greene’s successful heave just before intermission to finish the visitors’ 13-3 run in the second period, momentum seemed to be on the side of Parkway coming out of the break. Parkway’s athletic, 6th-grade sparkplug Cade Keller and teammate Jameson Hodges each recorded a 3-pointer in the third quarter to help Parkway to a slim, one-point advantage going into the final, decisive stanza. If Blowing Rock was going to win, they would have to regroup on both ends of the court for a final push.
And they did, but the Rockets’ cause was not helped any when usually reliable playmakers Wyatt Kohout and Bennett Brown grew cold at the free-throw line in the 4th quarter. After hitting on 5-of-6 from the charity stripe through the first three quarters, Kohout was 3-of-5 (60%) in the 4th quarter. Brown was 0-5 in the 4th quarter from the foul line. In Monday’s game against Green Valley, Brown earned game-high scoring honors with 19 points. Thursday night, he was held scoreless by the Parkway hoopsters.
Against Parkway, Kohout poured in a game-high 27 points to produce most of Blowing Rock’s firepower. Grant Troyer added six and Morgan Henry contributed seven.
“What a GREAT middle school basketball game,” Parkway head coach Grady McKinney smiled afterward in speaking with Blowing Rock News. “Man, that Blowing Rock team is really good and they deserved the win, but I am really proud of our players for their tenacity and not giving up. I told them to expect a dogfight in the second half and was it ever that and more. For most of the game, our kids played with this year’s best and they will gain confidence from that going into next week’s tournament. We’ll be in separate brackets and we’ll each face some pretty good competition, but maybe we will get to play Blowing Rock again in the final. That would be something.”
Todd Hartley, the Rockets’ head coach, was all smiles in speaking with Blowing Rock News — even if his heart was still racing.
“With all of the ‘senior night’ distractions, maybe we were off a bit tonight,” Hartley admitted, “but you have to give Parkway a lot of credit. They didn’t quit and kept fighting back.”
Ironically, standing on the sidelines before the game during warmups, one of the Blowing Rock parents confided the unthinkable to Blowing Rock News: “With all of their success this season and how lopsided their victories, these players’ confidence is through the roof. For the sake of their tournament play, it might be good for their over-confidence to be brought down a notch or two.”
The Rockets will enter the league championship tournament next week as the odds-on favorites to be crowned champions at the end of the competition series. As the #1 seed, they will face the #8 seed, Mabel, in the first round. Parkway completes regular season play in second place (12-2), both losses coming to Blowing Rock. Parkway will probably meet Bethel in the first round. Since they start the tourney in separate brackets, there is a high probability that the two adversaries will see a rematch in the tournament final.
- BR – Wyatt Kohout (27)
- PRK – Cade Keller (13)
- PRK – Maddox Greene (12)
- BR – Morgan Henry (7)
- PRK – Jameson Hodges (7)
- BR – Grant Troyer (6)
- PRK – Zachary Parsons (4)
- BR – Ayden Knight (2)
- BR – Will Kirkland (2)
- PRK – Jackson Pryor (1)
THURSDAY’S FULL LEAGUE SCORES
- Blowing Rock 44, Parkway 37
- Hardin Park 47, Mabel 4
- Valle Crucis 40, Bethel 26
- Green Valley 52, Cove Creek 28
FINAL REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
- 1. Blowing Rock (14-0)
- 2. Parkway (12-2)
- 3. Hardin Park (9-5)
- 4. Valle Crucis (7-7)
- T-5. Cove Creek (6-8)
- T-5. Green Valley (6-8)
- 7. Bethel (2-12)
- 8. Mabel (0-14)