By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SAND ROCK – Friday night was one final opportunity for eight Sand Rock senior boys basketball players to have the honor of cutting down a piece of the net from their own goal.
Senior point guard Jacob StClair said he puts his strands in a clear picture frame. Senior forward Kaden Justice said he ties all of his to a dream catcher on a ceiling fan in his room at home.
The duo did their parts to make sure they added to their personal collections against Fyffe in the Class 2A, Area 12 tournament title game.
StClair rang for 34 points, including three 3-pointers, to go along with 13 assists, nine rebounds and four steals. Meanwhile, Justice delivered 32 points, including five treys, to go along with seven boards in leading the Wildcats to a 92-81 victory.
Both StClair and Justice were all-tournament selections. StClair was chosen as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It was eight of our guys’ last time to ever have that chance, so we just tried our best to come out and win,” StClair said. “We talked about cutting down the net down and how excited we were about it. We came out and played together as a team and got the win.
“We knew they were going to come out and shoot threes. That’s what they do best. They shoot a lot of threes and hit them. We just tried to keep our composure, go down (the court), do the right thing, and get a good shot.”
StClair was dead on about how much the Red Devils love to shoot the 3-pointer. They connected on 17 treys for the game.
And, like StClair also said, the Wildcats (19-10) kept their composure and adapted to the game situations – even before tip off.
“One thing we threw at them right there to start the game we hadn’t even practiced,” Sand Rock coach John Blackwell said. “I was watching some film right before we played and I saw one or two little things they were giving us. I was able to go in during our pregame talk and I said ‘All right guys, we’re going to tweak this a little bit.’ Some of the first baskets we scored was off that.”
Sand Rock held a 20-17 edge at the end of the first quarter and built a 44-33 advantage at halftime. The Wildcat lead swelled to 51-33 early in the third quarter on a pair of StClair free throws.
But then Fyffe’s 3-point barrage took effect. They hit five in the quarter, quickly shrinking the Red Devil deficit down to four at 56-52 on Brodie Willoughby’s third trey of the quarter with less than three minutes to go.
However, Sand Rock survived the Red Devil resurgence by going on a 9-2 run the final 2:30 of the third to push its lead back up to 65-54 heading into the fourth.
Fyffe was never able to get its deficit down past eight points the rest of the way.
Willoughby led the Red Devils with 18 points on six treys. Cooper Cox netted 16 points, including three 3-pointers. Carter Wilborn also sank three treys and had 14 points. Eli Butts added 11 points including three 3-pointers. Jesse Burt and Eli Carter finished with seven and six points respectively.
Brian Giles contributed 12 points and three rebounds for Sand Rock. Ben Dale scored six points and pulled down eight rebounds. Bradley Jackson finished with four points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Willoughby and Wilborn represented the Red Devils on the all-tournament team. Dale joined Justice and StClair from Sand Rock. Collinsville’s Dawson Cothran and Gaston’s Micah Merriman rounded out the all-tournament selections.
With the win, Sand Rock will now host Area 15 runner-up North Sand Mountain in sub-regional action on Tuesday. The Bison lost to Pisgah 91-88 in other area tournament action on Friday.
Fyffe will travel to Pisgah.
“We’re playing a team that’s been ranked No. 1 in the state,” Blackwell said. “North Sand Mountain is good, but anytime you play at home it’s good. We have a huge fan base. We come out from eating right after school today about 3:15 and I counted 10 or 12 seats already in the bleachers. That’s not something that happens a lot in basketball. There’s parents coming in here at 3 o’clock reserving seats. That’s one thing that’s rewarding to our guys. It’s rewarding to our school, and it’s rewarding to us coaches. That means a lot.”
Both StClair and Justice are looking forward to playing another home game.
“It’s a great atmosphere every game we play here, and in the postseason it’s an even better atmosphere,” StClair said. “We appreciate everyone who comes out to support us. We’re trying to do something for them too.”
“I couldn’t imagine playing a sub-region game anywhere else,” Justice said. “I love playing here. I’m just so thankful God has blessed us to be able to play in this atmosphere.”