The sixth- and seventh-grade Wildcats and Gators closed out the season with a rough and tumble game Feb. 20 at the East Lawrence Center. Led by Rudy Hilliard, the Wildcats managed to keep a tenacious hold on the lead throughout the game, eventually recording the 37-30 victory.
Wildcats coach Craig Butler also hung up his coaching whistle after seven years coaching in the Hoopster league.
"I've been doing this seven years," Butler said. "I'm retiring. It's been worthwhile. I've got kids playing at high school. I've got kids playing at middle school. It's been fun."
The game started off at an easy pace, both teams keeping steady control of each possesion out on the court. The Wildcats scored first, but Gator Xavier Newman tied the game shortly afterwards.
In front of a muted crowd Wildcat Garrett Wagner sunk a fade away three-pointer to give the Cats their first lead of the game. Ty Hensley kept the Gators close, sinking a free throw. The slow moving first quarter came to close with both teams knotted at nine.
The second quarter was equally slow moving, the scoring opened with Wildcat Marty Williams sinking a free throw. However, Hensley sunk another free throw of his own, keeping the score even. Hensley then followed up with a two-pointer, giving the Gators the first and only lead they would have for the rest of the game.
Rudy Hilliard took control of the ball for the Wildcats, getting fouled and then racking up a free throw. With one minute left in the first half, Wagner managed to push the Wildcats three points ahead going into the break.
Hilliard continued his domination of the court by scoring first in the third quarter. Wagner helped out, hitting his second three-pointer of the game. The Wildcats stepped up the energy, setting the net on fire and dominating the boards. The Gators hopped back into the game when Alex Laughlin managed to sink a two-pointer as he was falling out of bounds. He followed up with a free throw, showing the Wildcats they weren't going to run away with the game.
What started out as a slow game quickly turned into an up-tempo race up-and-down the court, both teams fighting to end their season with a win. Hilliard hit a three-pointer of his own with 10 seconds left, keeping a slippery grip on the lead.
The fourth saw tempers flare on both sides, each team stepping up the aggression and intensity. The Gators came in, looking to pull out a win and defeat the Wildcats for the second time this season. Gator Preston Newsome got a smooth assist from Newman, sinking the ball for two points.
Midway through the quarter, both teams experienced scoring draughts, each having trouble landing shots. In the heat of the moment, both teams seemed to lose focus. The final two minutes boiled down to Hilliard hitting a layup as the Wildcats tried to run the clock out. Jake Walters finally broke the Gator's scoring drought, driving the ball full court and hitting what would be the last of the points for the game. It was not enough, and the Wildcats got a bit a revenge beating the Gators in the final game of the season.
"We played a good game," Wagner said. "Our defense was good enough to win the game. It feels good to finally win one."
Alex Green agreed, saying his team had no had a great deal of success this season.
"We did a really good job passing," he said. "We didn't win a whole bunch this season, so it's great to win our last one."
"This is the kind of game that makes it all worthwhile," Butler said. "I saw the team improve over the season. We had a lot of fun. And that's what it's all about isn't it?"