The Green Bobcats opened their boys basketball season at home Saturday night against Rock Hill.
In what was nearly a packed house in Franklin Furnace, Green was able to prevail 52-49 in a game that went down to the final possession.
“I’ve got to give it to Rock Hill, they made us work for it,” Bobcats head coach Dirk Hollar said. “They hit some big shots, and they’re scrappy and physical.”
Kadin France had a big game for the Redmen down low, scoring 21 points and reaching double figures in rebounds.
In the first quarter, France showed he was going to be a matchup problem throughout the night. The center scored eight points in the opening period, finding several ways to get on the scoreboard.
With France leading the way early, Rock Hill pushed ahead 14-12 at the end of the first quarter.
One quarter later, neither team was able to establish much momentum.
Tanner Kimbler scored seven points during the second, and his layup right before the halftime buzzer put Green ahead 20-19 at halftime.
Turnovers were an issue for both teams, especially in the first half. The Bobcats wound up committing 16 turnovers, and the Redmen had 19 on the game.
“We were sloppy,” Hollar said. “Very sloppy in the first half, and I think we had a couple steals in the first half we could have got that we didn’t get.”
Both teams would find their offenses in the second half, and Green found themselves a new weapon in the third quarter.
Sophomore Gage Sampson stepped up in a major way, totaling 10 points in the quarter. Sampson started the scoring off for the Bobcats in the second half with two baskets in a row to put Green out in front 24-19.
Rock Hill was willing to exchange blows, and they did just that with the home team.
A France bucket cut the lead to three, and a couple possessions later a three-pointer from Brayden Stamper evened the count.
Each team would continue to trade punches, and with four minutes to go in the third quarter the Redmen were back on top 27-26.
The Bobcats would find a way to bite back, as Sampson got to the free throw line in two possessions and drained all four attempts.
In the contest, Sampson was 7 for 8 at the charity stripe, and Green as a team was 19 for 26. To contrast, Rock Hill struggled going 8 for 18.
“Those free throws, man,” Hollar said. “The three scrimmages we played in, our free throws were so atrocious that my little six-year-old daughter could have shot better than us. To hear that, it puts a smile on my face.”
With a ton of fight coming from each school and nobody able to pull away, the third quarter ended with Green ahead 36-35.
The final quarter would be no different in terms of the pace of the game, as again both sides went back and forth with the scoring efforts.
With seven minutes to play, the score was tied. The Redmen had a chance to build some momentum down the stretch when Isaac Floyd was fouled on a three-point attempt, but Floyd was only able to make one at the line.
From there, the Bobcats responded with a basket and a foul from Kimbler, who made the most of his free throw chance.
Again, Green took the lead again at 41-39 with 5:55 left.
Sticking to the script, Rock Hill had a response almost right away.
Redmen point guard Jake Blagg used his speed to drive the lane and cause the defense to crash, then the crafty Blagg found a wide-open Floyd for a three-pointer to give Rock hill a 42-41 lead with 4:36 remaining.
Hollar took a timeout, and his squad answered right as they stepped onto the floor when Caden Blizzard buried a triple to make the count 44-42 in favor of the Bobcats.
Of course, the Redmen weren’t finished yet.
Stamper drove through the lane and drew contact, tossing up a shot that found the bottom of the net while getting fouled. The free throw was good, and Rock Hill was up 45-44 with three minutes to play.
For the next couple minutes, the score remained the same. With under a minute to play, Green needed a big play to stay afloat in the contest.
They would get just that from Tayte Carver, who scored with 47 seconds remaining to put the Bobcats back up 46-45.
As they had done all game, the Redmen answered. At least, it looked that way.
Logan Hankins was able to get to the free throw line, but missed the one and one opportunity with 38.5 seconds left.
Seconds later, Rock Hill fouled Sampson again to send the youngster to the line.
Sampson continued to be cool, calm, and collected as he stroked both free throws to put Green up 48-45.
The Redmen weren’t giving up just yet, as Stamper found France for a lay-in with 21.1 seconds left. The Bobcats would take a timeout to talk things over.
A press from Rock Hill looked to create problems, but Kimbler was able to break loose and cross center court. Once he did, the Redmen had no choice but to foul the sharpshooter and send him to the line with 17.7 seconds left.
Kimbler knocked down both free throws, and Green was up three again. Rock Hill kept the contest going when Cody Roberts was fouled and set to shoot free throws with just seven seconds left to play.
Roberts would hit both, and the Redmen took their final timeout to try and devise a game plan.
Out of that timeout, the Bobcats found Kimbler who was quickly fouled. With 5.3 seconds left, Kimbler again made both to put Green up 52-49.
Still with a chance, Rock Hill had a good look on a corner three from France but the shot banged off the front iron. The ball squirted free and time expired, giving the Bobcats a victory in their season opener.
On the stat sheet, Kimbler looked solid with 22 points, but he struggled at times with his shot. For Green, they’ve worked on trying to find scoring beyond Kimbler and Carver, and Sampson was able to be the guy against the Redmen.
“These are the games I’m talking about that we’ve got to finish and we’ve got to win,” Hollar said. “Those ugly games where Tanner’s not hitting and someone else has to step up.”
Sampson did just that, ending the game with 13 points. 12 of those 13 came in the second half, including the two clutch free throws with under a minute to play.
“I love that kid,” Hollar said about Sampson. “Sophomore, first ever varsity game, and he came up big in the second half.”
Of course, there were some things that Hollar felt his team could get better at.
“It’s the first game of the season,” Hollar said. “I didn’t expect to come out and drum them by 30 or anything, but I expected us to play a little bit better than we did.”
The Bobcats (1-0) begin their SOC slate of action on Tuesday against Notre Dame. Rock Hill (0-2) might be winless to start the year, but they have shown improvement from last year and could be a team to watch if they can consistently improve at the free throw line.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer