Words: Josh Horen
A highly anticipated matchup would’ve be an understatement to describe the excitement towards tonight’s game. Rival games between Mount Hebron and Centennial rarely disappoint, and tonight’s game was no different. The Eagles won in an instant classic, 57-42, to move onto the 3A East title game.
The start time for the game was 6:00 p.m., but the doors opened at 4:45 p.m. sharp. Anyone who knows the history behind these two rivals knows that if you want a quality seat, you shouldn’t arrive any later than 5:00.
To start the game, Senior Hayden Ford missed his initial shot and the grabbed his rebound down twice before finally scoring the first two points of the game, asserting his presence in the post.
After the Ford finish, the Vikings retaliated with a 5-0 run including a three-pointer and a swift pull-up jumper by junior Brandon Prox. With 1:54 remaining in the first, Prox nailed his first three-pointer of the night to take a 10-5 lead.
However, the Eagles ended the first quarter on a positive note. Junior Matt Merkey had a very tough finish to score his first two points of the game, and on the other end, senior Kaleb Addisu closed at the quarter with a monstrous block. Mount Hebron took a very shaky 10-7 lead into the second quarter.
Coming right out of the first quarter, the Vikings, who know how to make the long-ball, converted on a three-pointer to take their biggest lead of the game, 13-7.
Later in the quarter, senior Sean Taylor couldn’t be contained. He nailed a two-pointer to pull within four points of the Vikings, 15-11. The very next possession, Ford had a commanding swat which led to a transition three-ball for Taylor, who went on a 5-0 run all by himself.
Despite Taylor’s shooting, the Eagles still found themselves trailing by four points, 20-16, with just under four minutes remaining until the break.
Senior Andrew Hohmann, who had been pretty quiet through the first half, erupted for four straight points, and the lead. He had back-to-back lay-ups to put the Eagles ahead 21-20. After his second lay-up, the Hebron head coach saw the tide was turning and elected to take a timeout. The timeout proved to be quite ineffective, as Hohmann had his third straight basket of the game coming right out of that timeout.
Centennial went into the break clinging onto a 25-22 lead. The second quarter run for the Eagles was pivotal but they still needed to defend around the arc tighter.
The start of the third quarter was not what the Eagles were looking for coming out of halftime.
Their three-point lead quickly crumbled into a four-point deficit as Centennial saw the Vikings go on a 7-0 run. The Eagles offense was shying away from their game, which is aggressive cuts going to the basket. Instead, they were putting up a lot of outside shots and not getting a lot of action through the middle.
However, it didn’t take much time for the Eagles to realize what needed to be fixed.
Centennial went on a bruising 8-0 run. This stellar streak of unanswered points included no three-pointers, rather, only hard-fought two’s. Senior Shawn Hill started the run with a lay-up and picked up the foul. Senior Corey Eudell followed that up with a freaky athletic put-back off the glass, and Hohmann had back-to-back extremely tough finishes.
The Eagles jumped out to a 33-29 lead with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter.
After a clinic of basket trading, Hohmann launched and delivered on a three-pointer out of a Centennial timeout to push the Centennial lead to 38-36.
Hebron, however, was the team taking the lead heading into the fourth, after a three-pointer gave them a 39-38 advantage.
Senior Jaden Williams had a simple answer for what needed to happen in the fourth if the Eagles wanted to make it to the 3A East title game.
“We needed to limit our turnovers and capitalize on our open shots,” said Williams.
Evidently, the Eagles did just that.
The fourth quarter was very unpleasant for the visiting Vikings. Their primary scorer, Prox, picked up his fourth foul of the game with 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter. He had to sit for a little while; meaning the Vikings lost their biggest weapon offense.
It proved to be very costly. In those first five minutes, the Vikings didn’t score a single point.
Eudell hit the dagger with 2:44 remaining in the game. As he caught the ball at the top of the key, a defender came sprinting to close him out. Eudell pump-faked, sidestepped, and very calmly nailed the three-pointer to essentially bury the Vikings.
He knew it was a crucial shot when it left his hands.
“It was big to extend our lead and make us feel more comfortable with the time remaining. It was a shot I was really proud of,” said Eudell.
It is challenging to put into words what this 57-42 East region semi-final game-win means to these players. As they have a chance to compete in the 3A East title game, and a possibility to make it to the Xfinity Center, Taylor described it simply.
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