Eminence completed the season sweep against Henry County 68-53 in a physical rivalry game on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
The Warriors took the first matchup of the season against the Wildcats 57-53 in December.
“Big district win. It's a rivalry game. You throw the records out when you're playing your rival. You never know what's gonna happen,” said Eminence head coach Brandon Gabbard.
The Warriors played without starter Morgan Powers, but junior Tanner Malone filled his position well.
“Tanner Malone really stepped up and we all kind of stepped up there tonight filled the gap that we had,” Gabbard said.
Henry County didn’t waste any time getting on the board after winning the opening tip. Baylor Nolin swished a corner three just eight seconds into the game to put the Wildcats ahead.
Avery Holland found a rhythm early in the post and hit two shots from the block to move the Warriors into the lead.
Luke Lyons cut the lead back to one on a layup before Eminence scored five in a row to create some separation.
The Wildcats got within four late on a putback from Grayson Clark. Both teams found success in the first quarter from their respective big men, with Holland and Clark battling down low for second chance points.
“Grayson's a big strong kid and he's been hurt a lot this year so we're really just now getting him back. So he's a great addition against these teams that are physical and big down low,” said Henry County head coach Derek Tingle.
Lyons completed a 3-point play with 15.3 seconds left to bring the Henry County deficit to 15-12 at the end of the first quarter.
The hustle remained steady going into the second quarter on both sides. Nolin knocked in a layup to cut the lead to one and force Eminence to call a timeout with 7:11 left.
The Warriors got into a groove out of the break and rattled off an 11-0 run, which included two 3-pointers and two shots from Holland on the block.
The Warrior defense forced several Wildcat turnovers in the quarter to slow their offensive production as well.
Henry County halted the streak with a layup from Morgan Wilson with 3:13 to go in the half.
Bladin Malone put Eminence ahead by 13 on a layup, but Quyentin Hardy and Jerred Slone buried shots near the hoop to cut the lead back to single digits.
Elijah League’s shot down low on the right block sent Eminence into the half with a 31-20 lead. However, Henry County’s Lyons was whistled for a technical after the buzzer and Josh Ruzanka hit both free throws before the start of the third quarter to bring the score to 33-20.
“I’ll give the Eminence kids credit. They played hard, made tough shots,” said Tingle. “We came out, we didn't execute maybe the way that we wanted to in the first half, turned the ball over a little bit too much. I thought that we came out in the second half and executed more of what we wanted to do, but when you dig yourself a hole, those holes are tough to come out of against a team that really does get after it defensively.”
The outside shooting for both squads ramped up in the third quarter. Malone kicked off the half with a corner three, followed by a shot from Holland in the paint to push the Eminence lead to 18.
Henry County’s Nolin and Tingle alternated threes around layups from the Warriors to stay within reach. Nolin’s second triple in the quarter cut the advantage to 42-29.
The Wildcats had a boost of energy in the third period, using a layup from Jordan King and two free throws from Clark to cut the lead to 11 with 4:07 to go.
Following two free throws from Ruzanka, Henry County scored five straight, including another three from Nolin, to pull within eight with 2:47 left.
The Wildcats too advantage of missed shots by the Warriors to get back within single digits, but Eminence responded after a brief timeout with a 6-0 run.
Nolin drained his fourth 3-pointer of the quarter with 1:13 to go to move Henry County back within 11, but the Wildcats trailed 53-41 heading into the final period.
Henry County began applying full court pressure late in the third and throughout the fourth quarter. The physicality of the rivalry game amped up as well, with both teams getting to the line more frequently than earlier in the game. Both sides combined for 29 foul shots in the fourth, with Eminence accounting for 20 of the 29.
“I just kept telling them keep your head. These rivalry games and these kids get emotional and they're all just wanting to play hard and win on both sides. At the end of it, shake hands and we'll do it again next time,” said Gabbard.
The Wildcats got as close as 12 points on a layup by Peyton Amyx with 7:22 remaining and on a free throw by Nolin with seven minutes left, but Eminence started to pull away late.
Two free throws from Holland moved the Warriors into a 61-46 advantage with 2:42 left. The Wildcats began to foul near the end in an effort to cut into the lead, but Ruzanka made six of eight from the line to push the game out of reach.
Ruzanka went 11-of-14 from the line and led the Warriors with 22 points.
The Warriors shot 32 free throws overall.
“Don't think we shot that many free throws anywhere close to that all year, so we got to the line, and they were fouling at the end, but we did a good job of knocking enough of them down and sustaining our lead and we're just happy to get a district win,” said Gabbard.
Henry County struck once more as Hardy sank a three with 19 seconds left to cut the final margin to 15.
Nolin had a team-high 18 points for the Wildcats.
“I am proud of our kids for as the season's gone on, they've been able to handle runs from other teams with a lot more maturity and so that's been a focus of ours of being able to stay consistent with what we do, handle runs and execute offensively,” said Tingle.
The win puts Eminence at 13-9 on the season, while Henry County falls to 3-20 overall.