By Paul Keane
MENDENHALL — It was ironic that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was playing as Wayne Academy’s varsity boys basketball team came out of the halftime locker room here Wednesday night.
That’s because the Jaguars, at the time, were standing toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in MAIS Class AA — the Rebels of Adams County Christian School — and trailed by a slim 35-32 margin in the quarterfinals of the Class AA South State Tournament.
Steve Perry and the famous song must have been blaring in the heads of W.A. fans heading into the fourth quarter, as the Jaguars trailed by that same three-point margin at 46-43.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, depth played a fact in the final eight minutes and the Rebels were able to take the air out of the ball just enough to extend the lead and take a 72-55 win over W.A., ending the Jaguars season.
ACCS advances to face Hartfield Academy in Friday night’s semifinals. Both teams have qualified for the Class AA State Tournament at Winona Academy next week.
Despite the loss, W.A. Head Coach Forrest Daws was extremely proud of his team at the end of the night.
“I am proud of each an every one of them,” Daws said of his players. “They did exactly what we wanted, and they executed the game plan just the way we needed to do.
“Depth was a factor in the fourth quarter, and we had limited opportunities offensively because they did what they had to do by milking the clock.”
Daws said while he regrets losing senior Add Mathis for next year, he is excited about the prospects of having the rest of the team return for the 2014-15 campaign.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” he said. “We will miss Add, but I’m excited about the group that is coming back. And tonight, Dillan (Beene) and Zach (Hutcherson) both grew by leaps and bounds as players. I’m excited about our chances next season.”
The Jaguars withstood multiple runs by the Rebels, answering with some runs of their own, to make things extremely close and put the fear of God into the Rebel fans during the first three quarters of action.
ACCS jumped out to a 6-2 lead early, extending that to 9-4 with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Reed Wood hit a three-pointer and Mathis and Wood both hit free throws to close the margin down to 12-9 with 3:36 left before the Rebels put together an 8-0 run. Grayson Livingston drained a three-pointer to make it 20-12 heading into the second quarter of play.
ACCS extended its lead to 25-12 with 7:24 left in the half, and the Rebels appeared to have wrested control of the contest from the Jaguars. Instead, Beene hit a jumper and a trey, then Wood drained a jumper before Mathis scored on a layup and Thomas Rigney drained a free throw to cut the margin down to 30-22 with 5:22 remaining. Beene and Hutcherson would both hit buckets to trim the lead down to 32-26, then Beene hit a bucket to make it 32-28 with 2:29 left.
Livingston would hit a jumper and drain a pair of free throws to make it 35-32 Rebels at the intermission.
The Rebels scored the first two buckets of the third quarter, only to see Hutcherson drain a three and connect on two more buckets, putting together a 7-0 run of his own tied the ballgame up at 39-all with 5:39 left. Wood would score on his own put-back to make it 41-40 and then he hit a bucket with 2:21 left to give W.A. a 43-42 lead.
ACCS then scored the final two buckets of the period to make it 46-43, and the Rebels controlled the game the rest of the way.
While taking the air of the ball with a four-corners offensive attack, ACCS was able to score the nine points of the final stanza, moving out to a 55-43 advantage with 5:05 remaining. From there, the Rebels slowly pulled away, finally using the free throws to ice the game.
Wood led the offense with 14, Livingston added 11 and Hutcherson and Beene contributed nine points each.