BOYS BASKETBALL: Jackets win hard-fought battle against rival Sonoraville, earn fifth straight region title
The atmosphere and intensity were certainly worthy of a region championship game on Saturday night, and the play on the court delivered as well.
Rivals Calhoun and Sonoraville did battle for the 6-AAA crown, and the game was tight throughout. But the Jackets simply made more plays in the final quarter to pull out a hard-fought 53-48 victory and earn their fifth straight region title.
The Jackets (20-4) trailed by one going to the fourth quarter and then by four at 43-39 close to the midway point of the period when Calhoun senior Rhett Abernathy stepped up with a huge four-point play on a made 3-pointer followed by a free throw to tie the game at the 4:52 mark.
The game was a scrap from that point on as Sonoraville’s Trent Daniel lifted the Phoenix (22-7) back to a 45-43 lead with a lay-up with just over three minutes to play. Calhoun then closed the game on a 10-3 run, including going 8-for-8 at the free throw line to seal the win.
For photos from Saturday’s game, see Wednesday’s Calhoun Times.
Calhoun coach Vince Layson said the game itself was great to be a part of and his team was fortunate to make the plays to get the win, including Abernathy’s clutch shot.
"That’s the type of game you want to be in," said Layson. "I knew the guys would bring a lot of energy tonight with it being a cross-town rival and region championship. That game could’ve had several different outcomes. We were fortunate to make some plays down the stretch and pull it out. Credit to Sonoraville for making it extremely tough to do. That game could’ve gone either way.
"I think Rhett’s four-point play set the tone for the rest of the game. We were winded and down a little, and I felt like if they got a stop there and went and scored on the other end, it could’ve put us away. But that shot brought us back to life. I’m more happy for Rhett than anything. He works so hard, and he came through with a huge play when we needed it."
Abernathy finished with 13 points in the game, including six in the fourth quarter. Chapin Rierson also had 13 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. He added 11 rebounds to give him a double-double for the night.
The Jackets got a huge (and somewhat unexpected) lift from Davis Allen, who led them with 17 points and nine rebounds. He also went 4-for-4 from the line in the final two minutes. The sophomore got the start on Saturday night, and Layson said he did more than enough to warrant it.
"What Davis did tonight is MVP worthy in a tournament situation like that," said Layson. "He got some big rebounds when he had to have them and had some big points. I didn’t really know how he was going to take it when I told him he was starting tonight, but he took it in stride just like he took the game. I’m very proud of how he stepped up tonight."
The game was tied after a back-and-forth first quarter at 16-16. The second quarter followed the same script as Sonoraville reeled off a 7-0 run to start the period, but Calhoun answered right back with an 8-0 run to jump back into the lead at 24-23. The teams traded leads one more time before Calhoun took a slim 26-25 lead into the locker room.
Sonoraville put together a 9-0 run shortly into the third quarter to build a 34-29 lead, but Calhoun fought back once again cut the deficit to 36-35 going to the fourth. The Phoenix got a couple big shots from Wil Walraven and Daniel to put them up 43-39 before Abernathy’s four-point play that swung the momentum toward Calhoun.
"Earlier in the game, I wasn’t really hitting, but I knew the play was for me when Coach (Layson) drew it up and he always tells me to keep firing," said Abernathy, one of six seniors that made it four region titles in four years on Saturday. "I got that feeling that it was going in when I let it go and then got fouled. I think that helped change the game."
Daniel led the Phoenix with 18, including hitting four 3s. Walraven and Bryce Waters each had 11. Sonoraville coach Brent Mashburn said it’s always tough to lose especially in region title game, but he had no problems with the way his kids performed, including Daniel’s big performance.
"We knew it would be a game like that," said Mashburn. "How can you argue with the way our guys played tonight and all week here. They played their butts off. This one could’ve come down to one play either way, and Calhoun is a really good team. They made plays down the stretch.
"We got here because of our team. It wasn’t two or three guys that got us here. We have a really good group. We knew we had to have guys make plays. We know teams are going to try to take away Wil, Bryce and Brad (Wilson) so we know we have to have guys step up. Trent was ready to do that tonight. He guarded Calhoun’s best player and then hit big shots on the offensive end. I’m proud for him."
With the win, the Jackets kept alive their region title streak that now sits at five. Layson said his team always has the expectation of winning a region title and this team carried that tradition on Saturday.
"It’s a credit to the kids," said Layson. "They work hard in the weight room and in practice, and our saying is ‘hard work pays off.’ That showed again tonight against a really tough opponent.
"I told the guys before the game that those guys that won the first region title a few years ago laid the foundation, and many of them over the last four years are still tuned in with the program even if they aren’t still playing. They’re either listening on the radio or in the stands at a lot of our games. They have a vested interest in this program, and our guys carried on that tradition tonight."
Next up for both teams is the Class AAA State Tournament. Both will be at home, which will be Sonoraville’s first-ever home playoff game. The Phoenix will take on the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AAA, and Calhoun will play the No. 4 seed from the same region on either Friday or Saturday. Day and time for both will be announced in the next few days.