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Wildcats pull away after close start

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Warriors lead early but Henry outscores EHS 25-11 in decisive fourth quarter

By Tommie Kendall

It took more than 25 minutes for the Henry County Wildcats to outlast their cross-county rivals Eminence, then they put it in overdrive.

On paper, host Henry was big favorites over Eminence in the first clash of the two high schools this boys’ basketball season. But the first three quarters featured an Eminence team that would not back down. The Warriors jumped out to an early 12-5 lead, were in front 14-10 after the first quarter and led for much of the first half last Thursday night inside Roy L. Winchester Gym.

The Wildcats then went to lead, fought off a few Eminence spurts and pulled away down the homestretch for the 73-47 win. They outscored Eminence 25-11 during the final eight-minute stretch in what quickly turned from a 10-point game to a 26-point runaway.

It was just the start Eminence coach Chris Nethery was hoping for from his squad that is beginning to turn the corner, and just the finish Henry coach Derek Springate was wanting. The teams play again on Feb. 13 at Eminence.

“Any time you play a rivalry game, both teams are going to come out more emotional,” Springate said. “I told our players before it started that they weren’t going to win this thing in the first quarter. We came out flat, too emotional and wanting to win it early. Eminence has a good basketball team — they have great athletes and did a good job of handling the pressure. But as we settled down, we got in the flow of things and started playing the way we’re capable of playing. After we realized Eminence wasn’t going to just roll over, everything started coming into place.”

Meanwhile, Nethery was pleased with how his players started the game but not pleased with the way they finished it. The tables turned as the game progressed with Henry eventually taking over.

“I think we played really well the first two quarters,” Nethery said. “The pressure then started to hurt us a little. We have to learn to keep our focus even when we’re tired and things aren’t going our way. That’s something we didn’t do.”

Eminence’s Bradley Foree scored inside at the 3:50 mark in the opening quarter to put Eminence ahead for the first time, 6-5. Dre Banta then knocked down two 3-pointers to make it 12-5. The action heated up in the final minute of the first quarter with the two teams combining for 10 points and Eminence holding a 14-10 lead.

Henry’s Trevor Raisor opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer to cut Eminence’s lead to just one point. But it wasn’t until Tommy Gray knocked down a 3-pointer that Henry went back into the lead, 22-20, with 2:57 left in the half. Henry was in front 28-22 at the break.

“I give Eminence all the credit in that first half. They definitely outplayed us,” Springate said. “I told our players at halftime that I wished in high school basketball that the team that played the hardest would win, but that’s not the case. I actually wished Eminence was leading at this point because they beat us in every aspect of the game and deserved the lead.”

Henry never trailed in the second half. Jake Hartlage’s 3-pointer put the Wildcats up by double digits for the first time, 45-34 with just 17 seconds left in the third quarter. Gray then knocked down another 3-pointer with just three seconds remaining to put them up 48-36.

Eminence got within 10 points early in the fourth quarter but the Wildcats pulled away in the decisive closing minutes with long spurts. Foree fouled out with 5:55 remaining before Henry got up by 20 points for the first time and eventually won by 27.

Springate pulled his key players a few times, most notably early on, to prove a point to his team. It seemed to work as the youngsters provided a spark off the bench for the Wildcats and the starters eventually re-entered the contest to pull away.

“I’ve been preaching all year that we have to do the little things and be mentally ready,” the first-year head coach said. “I didn’t feel like that first group I had out there were ready so I decided to give the other kids a chance. They played harder, hustled and got after loose balls.”

Pete Baldwin led the way for the winning squad with a game-high 17 points. Gray finished with 13 points, Connor Jeffries scored 10, Spud Baldwin scored nine, Raisor scored eight, Dylan Smith and Austin Young scored four each, Hartlage scored three, Ben Schroeder and Derek Jeffries scored two each, and Jared Payton scored one.

For Eminence, Bradley Foree had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Diashon Moore had 12 points and seven rebounds, Jordan Fairchild and Dre Banta had seven points each, Brandon Lane had three points, and Sean Armstrong and Jeremy Keller had two points each.

With the victory over Eminence, the Wildcats picked up their 10th win this season and beat Gallatin County two days later to improve their overall record to 11-8 entering this week. Their 4-2 31st District record is also tied as the top spot in the district with Gallatin and Owen County. The three teams will draw for district seeds before the postseason starts in February.

The Warriors also won on Saturday, beating Riverside Christian for just their second win this season to improve their overall record to 2-11. They will host Henry County on Feb. 13 for the final boys’ basketball in-county showdown this season.

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.