For two straight quarters Feb. 7 the eighth-grade West and South teams held each other in close contention. After wrestling to gain the lead all the way through the end of the first half, West walked away the victor, 43-27, on South's court.
"We really rallied in the second half and won it," Warhawks forward A.J. Simons said.
West began the game with the lead. Two buckets from forward Nick Jaimez put them four points ahead of the Cougars.
It took a three-pointer from Cougar Scott Brenn on a pass from Michael McCabe, and two sunken free throws from Joey Baker to pull South out of their deficit. With the help of these baskets the Cougars finished out the first quarter leading 7-6.
Both the Cougars and the Warhawks held each other in check throughout the second quarter. Baker broke through Warhawk defenders for a running layup for the Cougars. After a missed three-point basket by Kevin Barber, Christian Nelson swooped in to capture the rebound basket for the Warhawks to tie the two teams at nine a piece. Jaimez then hit his mark with a three-pointer to push the Warhawks into the lead, 11-9. Barber garnered a second three-pointer and Chandler Schmidt sunk a bucket to give the team a seven-point lead over the Cougars, 19-12.
Warhawk head coach Mike Ofer recognized the efforts of his team in gaining the edge. He lauded Nelson's rebound and ball-handling skills as being an asset to the team.
"Christian was a key player in this game," Ofer said. "He really stepped up and set an example of a leader for the team."
McCabe fought hard for Cougar control of the ball to make up for the Warhawks' scoring and eventually burst through with a three-point shot. McCabe exhibited a valiant effort with a second three-point bucket but the points weren't enough to overcome the Cougars' second quarter slump. With the clock running out, the Cougars ended the first half four points behind the Warhawks.
"We didn't play our best in the first half but we really came back in the second half to play our style of game," Ofer said.
A swift steal from Evan Sloan on a down Cougars player led to a basket and sparked the Warhawks. Nelson found his game with a put-back, and Jaimez struck again with a two-pointer. Then Schmidt hit one in the paint after securing the rebound and followed with a free throw. Nelson came from behind the Cougar defense for a layup on a pass from Ryan Scott. By the time the dust settled the Warhawks' rally had carved out a 10-point lead.
With the Warhawks new game strategy, the Cougars wrestled just to break even with a layup from Baker and a bucket from Marcus Ray on a McCabe assist. Another swish and a free throw from Sam Hird hardly made a dent in the Cougars' point deficit and they ended the third quarter trailing 33-22.
The Warhawks used the fourth quarter to grab an even bigger lead with Jaimez's second three-pointer of the game. Michael Swank sunk a bucket, while Barber hit with his own three-pointer.
McCabe didn't give up his fight to score for the Cougars and after missing out on a basket that circled the rim but didn't sink in, he banked a second one off the glass. Mason Bertrand shot the final basket for the team.
Unfortunately for the Cougars time was not on its side. With seconds left and the Warhawks with a 16-point lead all they had to do was pass the ball around the perimeter to run out the clock.
Even with the victory Ofer said the team would be working on playing consistently throughout the entire game.
"We will be working on our intensity because we don't always play with it all the time," Ofer said. "We need to learn how to play all four quarters."