Vikings 'D' up on Champs, take 3rd in 9-A
EAGLEVILLE -- Defense was front and center when the Community Vikings and the Cascade Champions hooked up to determine third place in the District 9-A tournament on Friday night. In the end, the Vikings prevailed 44-29.
Both squads' defenses played so well in the first half that it began to appear as if the first team to reach 20 points would win.
The first quarter concluded with the Champions (17-9) ahead 6-5. Baskets were scarce as both teams played the last 3:42 with no score.
The Champs had two buckets to double Community's total, including a 3-pointer by Brent Ray in the second frame, to take an 11-8 lead into intermission. It appeared that they had the Vikings (18-10) on their heels a bit as their All-District post, Justin Stallings, was saddled with his third foul early and sat out most of the quarter.
"It was starting to feel like deja vu in the first half," Community coach Jace Bryant said. "It was a close game when it really shouldn't have been. We were playing defense, rebounding and had good, open looks. The ball just refused to go in the hole.
"I told our kids that instead of being satisfied that the game was close at that point, that we should be very angry that it was."
"I was proud of our defensive effort, we made some adjustments and did some things out of our (full-court) press that we're not accustomed to doing, and I was pleased with that," Cascade coach Charlie Pope said. "Our problem, again, was our inability to score points. It's kind of hard to set your pressure when you can't score. It's kind of a cruel cycle."
The third period didn't start any better for the Purple and Gold as leading scorer and fellow All-District performer Wylder Norris was whistled for his third foul within 33 seconds. That hastened his departure from the competition for a seat next to Stallings.
Dustin White set up on the right side of the key and drained a 3-pointer for the Vikings at the 4:56 mark of the third quarter to tie the game at 11-all. Cascade's Matt Henderson answered with a basket moments later to pull his squad back to within one point and set off a flurry of activity the rest of the way. District 9-A player of the year Jacob Carkuff added two points from the charity stripe in the quarter as well.
Henderson hit a 3-pointer to put the Champions ahead at the 2:17 mark. It would be their final lead. White stepped up and drained a trey from the opposite key, Zach Haynes checked in with a basket and David Natale had a pretty mid-air putback of a missed shot at the horn to pace the Vikings to a 24-22 advantage going into the fourth.
"The two 3-pointers that Dustin hit were huge," Bryant said. "We were a little tight at that point and you could just see our team visibly relax after his buckets.
"We played outstanding defense the first three quarters and I felt that we were going to be okay offensively from that point on, so our challenge to our guys was to finish the game strong defensively. They responded. I believe they only allowed two field goals in the fourth quarter."
White struck again from 3-point land to put the Vikings up 29-22 with 4:57 left and, after a Cascade basket by All-District team member Gerald Johnson, went on a 9-1 run to nail down the win.
Cascade travels to face District 10-A champion Houston County in Erin in the Region 5-A tournament, which starts on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
"It's frustrating. It's not where we wanted to be," Pope said. "Hopefully, we've got some more in us. I can recall some good No. 4 seeds in my day when we were a No. 1 seed and didn't play like No. 4 seeds. Hopefully we can duplicate that feat.
"The great thing about it is that you've got five days to work. There are no secrets at this point. We've just got to get back down to fundamentals and remember that if you lose you go home and you get to think about it the whole offseason."
The Vikings will also be on the road Feb. 28 as the No. 3 seed. They head to White House-Heritage, where they defeated the Patriots by 11 points just 13 days ago.
"I can't say enough about our defensive effort -- especially the job that Cody Pierce did," Bryant said. "Carkuff is the player of the year for a very good reason and anytime you can neutralize him and hold any team to under 30 points have you played good defense.
"It was a fun game and we will let the kids relax a little bit for a day or so before we hit it hard to prepare for our next opponent."
White garnered high scorer honors with 11 points.
Cascade sophomore Christian Edmondson was named to the All-District 9-A regular season and tournament teams after the game.