Finally, the Eminence boys' basketball team put a check in the win column Saturday night with a 58-49 outing against Paris High School, which broke a 12-game slump and gave the Warriors their second win of the season.
It was a check long overdue.
"The guys really needed this game," Eminence coach Keith Blackburn said of his 2-14 squad. "They've worked so hard, have stuck together through adversity and this was a deserving win against a quality opponent."
The Warriors went back to the basics a few weeks ago, Blackburn said, and it showed on the court against Paris.
Eminence was in front 9-5 following the first quarter, 19-15 at the half and 35-31 after the third before holding on for the nine-point win down the stretch. Paris went in front three times during the final quarter but Shaun Hamlin knocked down seven of eight shots from the free-throw line late in the game and the Warriors were able to earn their first victory since Dec. 5.
"Our team chemistry was the best I've seen it in a while," Blackburn said. "Honestly, I just can't say how proud I am of this group."
Statistically, it was Eminence's best game of the season. The Warriors put three players in double figures with Ed Berry (22 points), Nelson Hedges (14 points) and Hamlin (10 points), while also getting scoring input from Justin Webb (seven points), Trevor Davis (three points) and Ryan Parish (two points). The Warriors committed just 13 turnovers against a tight Paris press, won the battle on the boards and their 58 points were more than every game except for their season opener against Heritage Academy (74-72 overtime loss). And Eminence, who usually allows opponents to shoot more than 50 percent from the field, held Paris to just 33 percent.
Eminence also got input from unexpected players in Davis and Webb, finishing with 12 and nine rebounds.
"Webb, as a freshman, runs the court well and jumps really well. We've moved him up to varsity a few games ago and he's been playing very well for us," Blackburn said. "And Davis is like the Ben Wallace of our team. He's really starting to play more minutes and is very productive for us."
The Warriors, opposed to most games when they are trailing early, took a 5-0 lead a few minutes into the game. The contest was later tied at 5 midway through the opening quarter, and tied again at 15 with 1:27 left in the second quarter before Eminence took its 19-15 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The teams were evenly matched during the third quarter as Eminence still held a four-point lead with a quarter left. With 6:20 remaining in the game, Paris knocked down a three-pointer to go ahead 36-35. The see-saw fourth quarter went back in forth as Berry swished a three-pointer; Paris knocked down another three-pointer to go back ahead; Berry put the Warriors in front with a jumper; and Paris went back ahead with an uncontested layup.
Hedges basket with 4:40 on the clock put Eminence ahead for good, 42-41. Hedges scored on a layup, pulled down a rebound at the other end and then connected on a jumper to stretch the Warriors' lead.
Hamlin went to the free-throw line eight times during the final two minutes, connecting on seven to help lead the Warriors to the victory. It was the first time Eminence celebrated a win in more than a month, when they defeated Kentucky School for the Deaf (55-49).
"The atmosphere in the locker room afterwards was great with smiles on everyone's faces," Blackburn said. "Now that they have that winning taste in their mouths, I think they want it again. Everything is definitely on the up now."
Eminence's win came on the heels of a 73-40 loss to Anderson County last Tuesday and a 79-36 loss to South Oldham Thursday. But Blackburn knew his team was due for a breakout game.
"Going into the Paris game, I felt like we were playing much better, even with the losses," he said.
Hedges led Eminence in both games with 12 points against Anderson and 13 against South Oldham. Berry added eight points and 10, but it wasn't enough to overcome either Anderson or South Oldham, who had 12 different players score in each game.
The Warriors will be back in action this Friday when they play the winner of Carroll County and Williamstown in the second round of the 8th Region All "A" Classic, held at Gallatin County. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
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