Fast start and clutch finish propels Hornets past Yellow Jackets
AIKEN 71, NORTH AUGUSTA 62
By NOAH FEIT
NORTH AUGUSTA — Playing in front of a raucous crowd at North Augusta High School, the visiting Aiken High boys’ basketball team did their best to silence the home fans. The Hornets stormed out of the gates and built a lead they never surrendered – but came close to losing – in a 71-62 victory Friday.
“We started fantastic,” Aiken head coach Tony Harrell said of his team, which led 23-8 after the first quarter, spurred on by the strong play of Shawn Moore. “He’s our leader. When he starts well, the rest of the guys follow. He got us off to a great start.”
Moore hit a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game on the first offensive possession, setting the tone. He scored 12 of his game-best 22 points in the first quarter with an aggressive approach where he was looking for his shot but not forcing up any bad attempts. He was the catalyst to an early 8-0 run that gave his Hornets (13-5, 3-1 Region 5-AAAA) a double-digit lead.
“We dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter,” North Augusta head coach Al Young said after his team fell to 12-5 overall and 2-2 in region play. “They got off to a great start, and it took so much to get back in the game; it took a lot of energy, and we couldn’t overcome it.”
The Yellow Jackets never came all the way back, but with a more disciplined approach on offense where they took care of the ball and methodically worked it inside where they could exploit a height mismatch, they got close. On a number of occasions in the second half, North Augusta got as close as two points down, the final time coming when the score was 59-57 with little more than three minutes to play. But like every time prior, the Hornets had an answer.
In the closing moments, they used a run fueled by the clutch play of Ryan McKie and Deon Hicks to score 12 unanswered points and put the game out of reach.
McKie and Hicks scored five points apiece in the game-winning spurt, as Aiken made the most of a strong start and clutch finish to overcome a stretch in the middle of the game where the offense wasn’t clicking. But McKie, who finished with 21 points, made enough quality plays throughout to help ensure the victory.
“He’s a tough matchup for opponents,” Harrell said of the versatile guard. “He can go inside or out. He does a lot of the little things and has had a heck of a year.”
Dramel Coleman scored 10 points for Aiken, which also got nine apiece from Hicks and Megal Hill. North Augusta center Tavarez Hall led his team with 14 points and was the focus of the Yellow Jackets’ offense when it was at its best. He was too big for the Hornets to handle when he got the ball in good positions in the paint and could play over the top of them, along with the ultra-athletic TJ Sheppard and Kenny Finley, who both posted 12 points.
“I though we could get the ball inside, and Tavarez did an excellent job,” Young said. “We just wanted to do more of that.”
North Augusta will get the opportunity to do more in its next game at Dutch Fork on Tuesday. That same night, Aiken will play host to crosstown rival South Aiken and try to reaffirm its status on top of the region standings.
“We control our own destiny and try to get better every day,” Harrell said. “South Aiken is much improved; Drew (Jernigan) is doing a great job over there, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
AIK 23 16 8 24 – 71
NA 8 21 13 20 – 62
Aiken (13-5, 3-1 Region 5-AAAA)—Megal Hill 4 1-2 9, Shawn Moore 8 2-4 22, Ryan McKie 8 5-5 21, Deon Hicks 2 3-4 9, Dramel Coleman 5 0-0 10. Totals: 27 11-15 71.
3-Pointers: Moore (4), Hicks (2).
North Augusta (12-5, 2-2 Region 5-AAAA)—Christian Davis 1 0-0 3, Keyon West 1 2-2 4, Malik Dunbar 3 3-4 9, TJ Sheppard 3 5-6 12, Kenny Finley 3 6-6 12, Chandler Harrison 2 2-3 6, Tavarez Hall 6 2-3 14, Victor Johnson 1 0-0 2. Totals; 20 20-24 62.
3-Pointers: Davis, Sheppard.
AIKEN GIRLS 57, NORTH AUGUSTA 44
NORTH AUGUSTA — Playing a critical Region 5-AAAA game on the road, the Aiken High School girls’ basketball team started the game at North Augusta High School on an 8-0 run and never trailed on the way to a 57-44 win Friday night.
Erin Gilmore scored a game-best 16 points for the Hornets (13-4, 3-1) who are second in the region behind defending state champions Dutch Fork. Gilmore scored 10 points at the free-throw line, a place where Aiken outshot North Augusta 32 to 13. In spite of the disparity of free-throw attempts, the Hornets only held a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But with a strong defensive effort and opportunistic scoring to go with points at the charity stripe, they pulled away.
“We made some shots, and that always helps,” Aiken head coach Aubrey Pompey said of 23-point fourth quarter. “We got some turnovers and kept things in front of us. In the fourth quarter, we got tougher. I liked our energy level and this was a good win. This is a tough place to play.”
Hanna Williams, recovering from a leg injury, had 13 points for the Hornets, while Alexis Odom added 10 more. Aiken’s next game is on Tuesday, at home against crosstown rival South Aiken.
Mallory Stone scored a team-best 14 points for led North Augusta (8-4, 2-2), which will play at Dutch Fork on Tuesday,
AIK 8 14 12 23 – 57
NA 4 14 15 11 – 44
Aiken (13-4, 3-1 Region 5-AAAA)—Erin Gilmore 3 10-15 16, Hanna Williams 4 2-4 13, Rebekah Muir 2 1-3 6, Jhay Graham 2 0-0 5, Alexis Odom 4 2-7 10, Sophie Nance 3 1-3 7. Totals: 18 16-32 57.
3-Pointers: Williams (3), Muir, Graham.
North Augusta (8-4, 2-2 Region 5-AAAA)—Arielle Houston 3 1-3 7, Desmond Wilson 1 0-0 2, Jasmine Coach 4 0-2 9, Brianna Trowell 0 0-2 0, Cydney Matthews 1 1-2 3, Ja’Lyn Sanders 3 1-2 9, Mallory Stone 6 1-2 14. Totals: 18 4-13 44.
3-Pointers: Sanders (2), Stone, Coach.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.