For the second time this week, the Aiken High School boys' basketball team staved off a late rally from a Region 5-AAAA opponent to persevere for a clutch victory.

After edging White Knoll earlier in the week, the Hornets needed to go to overtime before they dispatched Dutch Fork – prevailing at home 57-53.

“This has been playoff basketball this week,” Aiken head coach Tony Harrell said after his team improved to 11-5 on the season, and remain tied with North Augusta for first place in the region with a 2-0 record. “In this region, it's a marathon, and we've got 10 long games. I'm thankful to be 2-0.”

The Hornets got to 2-0 with a strong defensive effort, much needed perimeter shooting and some clutch plays. Against Dutch Fork (10-6, 1-1), they faced a bigger team with an abundance of good athletes who are able to play a physical style. Those were factors in a slow start for Aiken, which trailed by as many as seven points in the first quarter.

But the long-range shooting of Deon Hicks kept the score from getting out of reach, setting up a second-quarter surge for the home team. Aiken, which had been using a full-court, man-to-man defense from the start ,added the wrinkle of half-court traps in the second quarter to make the Silver Foxes uncomfortable. The strategy worked, as Dutch Fork fell out of rhythm on offense, unable to exploit their size advantage by feeding their big in the low post because the Hornet defenders were harassing them and forcing them to rush.

“The trap forced them into tough decisions,” Harrell said as his squad turned a five-point deficit into a five-point advantage at halftime.

The pace of play slowed down in the third quarter, as both defenses dominated the action. Dutch Fork packed the lane with their 3-2 zone, making it hard for the Aiken perimeter players to initiate anything off the dribble or pass the ball inside. Aiken was plagued by turnovers throughout the game, especially when the action bogged down and the players might have tried to hard to force something to happen.

In spite of the lackluster scoring, Aiken maintained the lead until midway through the fourth quarter when the Silver Foxes hit back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to take a 45-42 edge. The lead was short lived as Hicks responded with one of his five made 3-pointers, tying the score with 2:33 to play. Hicks was a steadying force for the Hornets throughout the game, and remained calm when things looked like they could become frantic. He finished with a game-best 18 points.

“He's so mentally tough,” Harrell said of his fifth-year senior who's playing because he was granted a hardship year for the season he sat out as he overcame leukemia. “With all he's been through, nothing fazes him. He's done a really good job.”

After Dramel Coleman fouled out with just six points, Hicks helped compensate for the loss of one of Aiken's best players. Down by a point, he made a steal and started a fast break that Megal Hill finished with a driving layup – giving the Hornets a slim lead with 50 seconds remaining. The score was tied when Dutch Fork center Freddie Poole hit one of two free throws with 37 seconds to play. Aiken held for the last shot, but couldn't get a clean attempt off, sending the game to overtime.

When the extra session began, Aiken got the ball and Hicks drilled another 3-pointer. What he started, Stacy Toole finished. Outsized by Poole (10 points), Sterling Thomas and Deion Frasier (15 points), Toole battled relentlessly in the paint throughout the game. It paid off as he scored Aiken's final five points – and the last four points of the game, breaking a 53-all tie. He hit a driving layup off a feed from Hicks with 15 seconds remaining and iced the game with a pair of free throws with just two ticks to play after a Hicks steal. Toole finished with 14 points.

“It was a hard-fought win. It's not the best we've played … but Stacy stepped up big and Deon made some huge plays,” Harrell said. “We're learning how to win and learning how to win close games.”

Aiken will be tested again when it returns to action on Tuesday at Lexington.

DF 17 8 12 10 6 – 53

AIK 12 18 10 7 10 – 57

Dutch Fork (10-6, 1-1 Region 5-AAAA)—Jordan Davis 4 0-2 10, Bobby Irby 1 0-0 2, Watson Harris 5 2-4 12, Deion Frasier 6 0-0 15, Sterling Thomas 1 2-4 4, Freddie Poole 3 4-6 10. Totals: 20 8-16 53.

3-Pointers: Frasier (3), Davis (2).

Aiken (11-5, 2-0 Region 5-AAAA)—Megal Hill 3 0-0 6, Nakeem Spann 0 0-1 0, Deon Hicks 6 1-1 18, Dramel Coleman 3 0-0 6, Stacy Toole 5 4-8 14, Dominic Chaplin 1 0-0 3, D.J. Kitchings 3 0-0 6, Dexter Sullivan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 5-10 57.

3-Pointers: Hicks (5), Kitchings (2), Chaplin.


Friday night was a rematch of last year's Class AAAA Lower State championship game, but Dutch Fork was without the South Carolina Player of the Year, Alaina Coates. Although Coates is now a key cog for the Gamecock women's basketball team, her alma mater didn't need her patrolling the paint against Aiken, as the Lady Hornets continued struggling on offense in a 44-21 loss.

“It's tough. We've been struggling all year to score,” Aiken head coach Aubrey Pompey said after his team fell to 4-11 on the season and 0-2 against Region 5-AAAA opponents. “The young ladies are playing hard, we're just not shooting with confidence.”

The Silver Foxes (7-6, 2-0) led 12-4 after the first quarter, and gradually added to their advantage. Morgan Williams led Dutch Fork with 15 points and Sydney Shull posted another 10. But it didn't come easy as the Hornets played solid defense, delivering a performance that would've been good enough to win most games if scoring was so difficult.

“We've been in games, but I tell the girls, 'we can't shut them out,'” said Pompey, who won't do anything radical to try and help produce points. “Consistency is the only way. It can happen, they just have to get comfortable. They're doing the right things, they just have to bring it to the court.”

DF 12 12 11 9 – 44

AIK 4 7 4 6 – 21

Dutch Fork (7-6, 2-0 Region 5-AAAA)—Kristine Moore 1 0-0 2, Zhane Green 2 1-2 5, Jennifer Sherouse 2 0-0 4, Cherise Daniel 1 1-2 3, Olivia Anderson 0 1-2 1, Sydney Shull 3 4-4 10, Kyerra Winston 1 0-0 2, Alexis Frasier 1 0-0 2, Morgan Williams 3 9-10 15. Totals: 14 16-20 44.

Aiken (4-11, 0-2 Region 5-AAAA)—Kelsee Sapp 2 0-0 4, Destiny Williams 3 0-0 7, Asia Johnson 1 2-2 4, Miracle Johnson 0 0-2 0, Kim Vinson 1 0-0 2, Maggie Odom 1 0-0 2, Destiny Richardson 0 2-2 2. Totals: 8 4-6 21.

3-Pointers: Williams.

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.