SCIOTOVILLE — Everything about rivalry games usually has the definition of bigger applied to it.
Whether it’s the higher intensity that accompanies said rivalry games, the larger-than-normal crowds that come to them, or the high level of play that comes with wanting to defeat those rival colors across the way, there are few games better.
On Friday evening, the New Boston and East boys basketball affair lived up to the definition of a rivalry game, with neither program giving the other an inch over the duration of the SOC I bout.
Ultimately, however, a 21-point, 16-rebound outing from Kyle Sexton, 21 points from Tyler Caldwell, and a triple-double from Kade Conley (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) allowed the Tigers of New Boston to overcome two furious rallies from the East Tartans and garner an 81-74 victory on the road to sweep the season series between the two programs in a thrilling conference battle on Friday evening in New Boston.
For Adam Cox, sweeping a rival — with a starter out — tells one all they need to know about his team’s heart.
“To be halfway through the season and to be able to gain our composure in a hostile environment is big,” Cox said. “It’s tough to play (at East), and (Adam) Bailey does a great job with his team. You know that they’re never going to quit playing. They’re always going to hustle. For us to hold our composure, especially with Drake Truitt out dealing with pneumonia and also dealing with foul trouble throughout the game, was huge. The kids gave it all they had, so I couldn’t be happier.”
As for Adam Bailey, the efforts of his East program couldn’t be faulted.
“I thought that the kids’ effort was excellent, especially in the second half,” Bailey said. “I thought that they played extremely hard in order to fight our way back into it a couple of times. We got into pretty bad foul trouble in the first half, and it kind of changed some of the things that we would’ve liked to have been able to do or try to do. We had to do some things that we hadn’t worked a ton on because we were in pretty bad foul trouble. It just put us in somewhat of a bad spot.”
From the outset, both units fought as if Friday evening’s rivalry affair wasn’t to be played again as both units tied or traded the lead nine times over the course of the opening quarter. However, Sexton, a freshman who has proven to be a force all year long at all five positions on the floor, proved to be nothing short of stellar in the frame for New Boston. The young 6-5 athlete scored his first points on the low block off of a putback from a missed back end free throw attempt, then went back to work on the Tigers’ next offensive possession to give New Boston a 5-3 advantage early on.
When East, who trailed 16-10 at one point during the first quarter of action, rallied back to take a 17-16 lead behind the efforts of JD Hatcher and Michael Bivens, Sexton came back with a pair of free throw attempts and another hard-fought bucket inside to give the Tigers a 23-21 advantage at the end of the first quarter of play.
“We are fortunate to have a 6-5 guard that can play guard, forward, or center as a freshman,” Cox said of Sexton. “You don’t get that very often. It was a big game for Kyle, but he’s had big games all year. He’s a freshman, and we routinely call on him to play like a senior. That’s impressive.”
In the second quarter of action, however, it was East who came out firing. As a matter of fact, the Tartans, behind the play of Will Shope, ultimately opened the second quarter on a 7-1 run that put East out in front by a 28-24 margin as the pair continued to be a force throughout the contest.
“Our team played team ball today, and it took everything we had to win because East played good,” Cox said. “(Will) Shope played good and J.D. Hatcher played an awesome game. They didn’t quit. Hat’s off to the Tartans, because they gave us everything that they had.”
But as East began to take control, New Boston responded right back with a big push of its own. A 10-2 run, aided by three made free throws off of a technical foul by the Tartans, allowed the Tigers to take a 34-30 advantage. When the Tartans cut that gap to 36-35, Conley showed off his multi-dimensional abilities by getting on the trampoline for a putback and drawing contact that led to two free throws. The result? A 6-0 run that allowed New Boston to take a 42-37 halftime advantage.
“If Kade’s not All-State, I don’t know who is,” Cox said. “If he’s not the top player in our league and a First-Team All-District caliber talent, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do in order to get that, because the kid is amazing. He’s never missed a practice, he’s never missed a day of school, and is irreplaceable.”
Behind a pair of threes from Tyler Caldwell and Kyle McQuithy — who proved to be critical in the contest with 12 huge points and a pair of three pointers in place of Truitt — the Tigers ultimately took its largest lead of the contest up to that point, 55-44, with 3:34 to play in the third quarter of action behind the pair, with McQuithy — whom Cox, a family friend, has known since McQuithy was seven years old — overcoming a quick benching in the first quarter to make a sizeable impact on the outcome of the affair.
“I told Kyle, ‘I need you to score nine to 12, I need you to get five or six boards, and I need you to take a charge,’” Cox said. “He did them all. I pulled him out in the first quarter and said, ‘You will not play the rest of the game if you do not take a charge or be in the right position defensively. If you continue to let them drive to the lane for a layup, you will sit. I will play a JV player.’ He responded and said, ‘I’m a senior, coach, and if you expect that out of me, I’ll give it to you.’ He did that. I love him.”
Hatcher and Shope, however, weren’t about to be denied. In less than two-and-a-half minutes, East, instead of watching New Boston pull out to a game-cinching lead, fought back behind the pair, who scored nine of the Tartans’ 18 third-quarter points and spearheaded an 11-2 spurt that cut the lead to 57-55 with less than a minute to go in the frame.
“The kids did a great job,” Bailey said. “It could’ve went one way or the other. I’m really proud of our kids. When their backs were against the wall, they did a great job of battling back and making the game close. I’m proud of our kids. They left it on the floor tonight.”
But late in the third quarter of play, a wide-open three, which would’ve given East the lead, was missed by the Tartans, which allowed McQuithy, a rock-solid long-range bomber, to come back at the very end of the quarter and drain a three from 24 feet out to again give New Boston a five-point advantage at the end of the third quarter.
“I thought that there were a few possessions that could’ve went either way, and they hit a couple of big shots there,” Bailey said. “Every time we’d inch a little bit closer, they’d find a way by hitting a three-pointer or getting a big offensive rebound and a putback. That was the difference in the game. We were able to cut the deficit down to a possession or two, but New Boston kept answering our runs with huge baskets. I can’t fault the kids’ effort. I thought that they played extremely hard. It was an emotional game on both sides.”
In the fourth quarter, it was Caldwell’s turn to come up big for the Tigers. The junior, who had 21 points for the entire contest to join Conley and Sexton in the 20-point club, collected eight of his points in the fourth quarter — all of them in a row, including two coming on a brilliant low-post move inside — to again allow New Boston to develop an 11-point cushion.
“Tyler told me that he was feeling it,” Cox said. “We got the ball to him in the post a couple of times, and he made himself open on some kickouts from (Kade) Conley. He really stepped up. I’m very proud of Tyler.”
But again, Hatcher came right back for the Tartans by responding with brilliant low-post play. The senior forward, who had to miss critical game action early in the first half with a sprained ankle, fought the ailment off and willed East right back into the mix by scoring 10 of his 14 points in the second half of play, including seven critical points in the fourth quarter, to pull the Tartans within four (73-69) again.
“JD did a great job tonight,” Bailey said. “He banged his ankle up early in the game, but came back in and fought through it. He’s a tough kid. I thought that his effort tonight was phenomenal. He just went out there and busted his rear end. He’s diving on the floor for loose balls and he’s beating and banging inside. I’m really proud of his effort, and hopefully, his game will just continue to grow here as we close out the season.”
However, Conley and Sexton, with their ever-evident poise, proved to be too much for East to handle. A low-post bucket from Sexton, along with five free throws from Conley, allowed the Tigers to fight off a second and final Tartans rally en route to the 81-74 victory.
With the win, New Boston improved its overall record to 9-3 and upgraded its SOC I record to a strong 8-1. The Tigers will look to continue its momentum in nonconference play when a strong Ironton St. Joseph squad comes to town on Tuesday evening.
“We know that if we want to win the SOC, we can’t let anybody knock us off,” Cox said. “We’ve got to be able to take care of everybody in order to get to Eastern. We’re not worried about winning the SOC. We’re worried about winning the next game. We’re in a part of the season where sectional implications are a part of every game, and we want to make the best of it. We want to show everybody around that we are legit and that we deserve to be one of the top teams in the area.”
As for East, the Tartans, with the loss, fell to 3-6 overall and 3-5 in SOC I action. However, Bailey’s club still has time to rebound in the three weeks remaining until tournament time commences.
“Our kids will keep working, and hopefully, we’ll start turning the corner and get a little bit better,” Bailey said. “Record-wise, it’s probably not where we want to be. Hopefully, from here on out, we can continue to get a little better each game, get the kids to buy in, and continue to play hard. Hopefully, that’ll carry us through the second half of the season.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT