ECHS topples Hillcrest

Published 9:33 am Monday, January 31, 2011

A tie at 35 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter is the closest the No. 6 Hillcrest Jaguars would get to the No. 7 Escambia County Blue Devils Thursday night in the battle between the two Top 10 teams.

The tie would be broken before the quarter ended with Andrew Rodgers tipping in a shot at the buzzer to put the Blue Devils ahead 37-35.

The final eight minutes proved to be crucial for the Blue Devils who were fighting to prove they belonged in the ASWA rankings that were released Thursday morning.

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In those eight minutes, the Blue Devils held off every charge by the Jaguars to improve to 16-6 on the season with a 58-55 victory.

Blue Devils head coach Anthony Hayes said the win was “huge” for the school’s program.

“This is a great win for our team,” he said. “It’s huge because our guys were so hyped up about being ranked for the first time, but they didn’t let the pressure get to them. They played that game the same way they have been playing and came away with a great win over a great team.”

Excitement buzzed through the air before the game even started with the Blue Devils quickly showing the Jaguars who’s court they were on by moving them away from halfcourt when they attempted to do a pregame ritual.

From that point on, the Blue Devils made noise as they quickly opened the game on a 15-4 run with an invigorated Fred Knight (12 points, two steals and 1 rebound) leading the charge with Atmore’s first eight points.

At the end of the first, the Blue Devils led 15-9.

Both teams settled down in the second quarter, each playing to stop the other’s push for momentum. Neither team was able to gain an advantage as they both scored 10 points with ECHS going into halftime with the Blue Devils leading Hillcrest 25-19.

Following halftime, the Jaguars began creeping back into the game turning turnovers into points.

Hillcrest was forced into their man defense early in the first half, but finally had some benefits of it in the third quarter. The Jaguars were able to force some bad shots and gained possession by boxing out down low and scoring several rebounds. A 16-12 run in the quarter pulled the Jaguars within two points of the Blue Devils who held their lead thanks to the tip by Rodgers (6 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks).

With a slim lead, a sense of urgency grew over th Blue Devils who made possession their focus in the final quarter as they made the most of their trips down the court.

Key three-point shots from Knight and C.J. Pierce (16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 assist) helped the Blue Devils increase their lead to five points, while leadership on defense from T.C. Brown (6 points, two rebounds, two steals and 1 assist) helped limit points by the Jaguars. The game was pushed down to the wire though with teams beginning to trade shots. Atmore’s second chance opportunties came thanks to pushing the ball back into transistion from Dalvin Craft (five points and 1 rebound) would prove to be the difference as they earned the win 58-55.

Rounding out the scoring for the Blue Devils were Demarcus McMillian with nine points, five rebounds and two steals; Walter Franklin with three points and Tony McAroy with one point.

With the win over Hillcrest and wins in the team’s next two wins against Saraland and UMS-Wright, the Blue Devils could vault higher in the ASWA rankings.

Hayes said he wants his team to continue to play at a high level.

“Getting a win over Hillcrest is something our team needed to prove they can compete,” he said. “If we can win one of our next area games, we are guaranteed to host the area tournament, which would be important in advancing to the playoffs.”

The Blue Devils next game is Monday, Jan. 31 at Northview High School in Bratt, Fla.

Games begin at 3:30 p.m.

Escambia County Blue Devil Fred Knight flies to the hoop in the Blue Devils’ win over HIllcrest on Thursday night. Knight opened the game with the team’s first eight points.|Photo by Chandler Myers