Austin Young started the holiday tournaments off with a bang.
His three-pointer from 26 feet found nothing but net, and wrapped up a 71-68 win for the Wildcats against Thomas Nelson
The Cats led 68-65 with 30 seconds left in the game and rebounded a Generals’ missed 3-point attempt to tie it, but Thomas Nelson stole the ball back and hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 10 seconds left.
Henry County coach Enoch Welch called timeout to set up the final play.
“We set up an isolation play for Dakota Estes with Austin as the trailer in case he got into trouble,” Welch said. “They pressed us and Dakota got trapped at half court. He was able to pass the ball to Austin at mid-court. Austin took one dribble, set his feet and launched it. Everybody in the gym knew it was going in when it left his hand. It was as pure a shot as anybody ever took.”
The game was close in the first half. After one quarter, Henry County led 14-13. In the second period, the Generals hit three 3-pointers and scored 19 points to Henry County’s 14, taking a 32-28 lead into the locker room. Estes led the Cats in the first half with 9 points.
But the Generals continued their hot streak to open the second half and led by as much as 14 points.
At this point the Cats found themselves in familiar territory, but this time the outcome was very different. The Cats had played from behind in their last two games but could not sustain comeback efforts in either game.
“We just hung around and finally came back,” Welch said. “We cut it to a three-point lead by the end of the quarter. We finally had a consistent effort and sustained momentum. We looked like the veteran team, which is huge. Even when they hit the shot that tied it, our guys never looked like they thought we were going to lose.”
The Cats’ comeback continued into the fourth quarter until they were ahead by 3 points, setting up the exciting finish that saw Young hit the big shot.
Welch felt that he got important contributions from everybody who played in the game. “We had balanced scoring,” he said. “Nine people scored for us, and our defense was excellent in the third and fourth quarters. Brad West got his first start and played good defense all night. Chase Howard had a big game and knocked down a couple of important 3-pointers and put pressure on the rim all night. Robbie Cruse came up big in the second and fourth quarters against their zone with some big baskets. Derek played a good game and Austin had 14 of his 16 points in the second half. Derek and Austin really pounded the inside against their zone to get us back in the game.”
Walton-Verona 65 HCHS 52
The Henry County Wildcats traveled to Walton on Dec. 18 and once again found consistent focus to be an issue. The Wildcats shot poorly from the field and allowed open looks for the Bearcats in critical moments of the game to fall 65-52.
Sophomore guard Grant Moeves led Walton-Verona with 27 points while Austin Young led the Wildcats with 15.
The game was tight in the first quarter as Walton edged out to a 12-10 lead. Moeves scored 10 of Walton’s 12 points in the quarter.
Walton edged out to a to 30-25 halftime lead on the strength of 7 more points from Moeves.
Meanwhile the Cats had trouble finding the mark from anywhere according to Welch. “We didn’t shoot the ball well. We didn’t finish around the rim and we didn’t hit any threes,” he said. “We even missed layups off out of bounds plays multiple times.”
The Cats shooting struggles even extended to the free throw line as they hit just 9-of-18 free throws in the second quarter. Had they hit just four more of those free throws, the Cats would have been down only 1 point at halftime.
The Cats struggles continued into the third quarter when they scored just 10 points to Walton’s 16. That gave the Bearcats an 11-point lead heading into the final period of play.
According to Welch the Cats made a couple of runs to cut the lead 3 points twice, but were unable to sustain any momentum. Walton ended up stretching the final margin to 13 points by winning the quarter 19-17.
“You are going to have shooting nights like that in the game of basketball, but you can rebound and play defense every time and that is what cost us the ballgame,” he said.
“What we have to learn, especially on the road, is that hustle plays maintain momentum and we didn’t have enough of those.
“We have two weeks here without school. We have two tournaments and a chance to get better. These are all homework assignments for our final exam, which is district tournament. We need to establish an identity. What is our calling card? We don’t have an identity yet, but we will establish that over the next month.”