WEST COLUMBIA — There was a lot of hype heading into Friday night's game between the boys' basketball teams from Midland Valley and Airport. It was a Top-10 showdown, with the top-ranked team in Class AAA in the most recent South Carolina High School Basketball Coaches Poll – Midland Valley – traveling to play seventh-ranked Airport. Both teams entered the game undefeated in Region 5-AAA play, with the winner taking sole possession of first place and having the upper hand toward winning the region title.

The teams didn't disappoint, trading the lead nine times in the final 3:20 before the Eagles squeaked by with a 64-63 victory. While it wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing basketball, the competition couldn't get any better as Airport survived misses from Djuan Green and Daniel Carr in the final 20 seconds before corralling a loose ball at midcourt, missing a dunk before the final horn went off.

“We played hard but not well,” Midland Valley head coach Mark Snelgrove said of his team, which is in the unenviable role of chasing Airport for first place. “The effort was good, but we made so many mistakes. We had two or three wide-open layups, and we missed them, we missed four free throws in the final quarter with our best shooters on the line, and we fouled; that gave them their final four points.”

It was a difficult night on offense for the Mustangs (16-3, 3-1). The Eagles used their length and agility to the max in their 2-3 zone, closing lanes and preventing the Mustangs from doing much damage of dribble penetration – one of the top weapons in their arsenal. That shortcoming was magnified by a poor-shooting performance, allowing Airport to pack in its zone.

“It stuns me we shot so bad,” Snelgrove said of his squad, which still produced 63 points, many coming in transition after forcing a turnover with either full-court pressure or quarter-court traps.

“It amazes me as close as we were with all of the mistakes. I feel like we left a lot of points out there.”

Airport's Sammy Frazier scored a game-best 22 points. Many of his baskets were from point-blank range as he would tip in a miss or was the beneficiary of an extra pass that found him alone by the basket. He did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 14 points before the Mustangs adjusted. CJ Wright added 12 points for the Eagles (13-3, 4-0) and Quan Bovain contributed 10.

Daniel Carr led Midland Valley with 16 points, many coming on mid-range, pull-up jumpers. He briefly gave the Mustangs a 62-61 lead with 1:09 to play when he made a steal beneath his own basket and raced the length of the floor before shedding defenders with another pull-up just inside the free-throw line.

The edge quickly turned into a deficit when Airport guard Josh Williamson was fouled on the next possession and connected on two free throws.

Carr had another chance to give his team the lead the next time down the floor, but his shot was too strong. But as he had all night, Kameron Brown used his long reach and tremendous athleticism to keep the play alive and grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up and in the basket in one quick motion. That mirrored an earlier play, when Aaron Ray – who came off the bench to score 10 points – had a putback for a one-point lead. Brown finished with 12 points and his shot gave Midland Valley a 63-62 lead with 23 seconds on the clock.

While it looked like the pressure was on Airport to make a dramatic rebuttal with time running out, they got some help from the referees. Just three seconds after Brown's basket, Williamson drew a questionable foul in front of the Mustangs' bench, sending him back to the line where he again went 2-for-2, scoring what turned out to be the game winning points. Williamson went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe in the game and finished with eight points.

“I thought it was a weak call,” said Snelgrove, admitting there was contact, even though it wasn't egregious. “He was bumped and we've got to be smarter than that. We can't give the referee the chance to handle the game.”

The foul didn't end the game, but neither Green (eight points) nor Carr could connect. Carr rebounded the initial miss before quickly shooting, perhaps rushing a tough shot in traffic, unaware that approximately 10 seconds remained before firing.

His miss was batted around and players dove after the ball around midcourt before it was finally tapped to Daniel Gillins, who tried to end the game with a exclamation dunk, but caught too much iron. The high bounce landed in Mustang possession but time expired before a full-court heave could even be attempted.

In spite of the set back, the Mustangs will have chances to redeem themselves. They play again on Tuesday, returning home for a game against Strom Thurmond. They'll get a rematch with Airport in Graniteville on Feb. 11. Snelgrove was upbeat in looking to the future.

“We had pretty decent shot, we were just missing. Most games we're not going to miss those shots,” he said. “We just need to play a little smarter. If we do, I don't think this game is particularly close. If we can improve our areas of weakness, ain't nobody we can't beat.”

MV 15 16 17 15 – 63

AIR 18 18 11 17 – 64

Midland Valley (16-3, 3-1 Region 5-AAA)—Daniel Carr 6 4-7 16, Taylor Wade 1 0-0 2, Broderick Brown 2 0-0 4, Taijha Turner 3 0-1 7, Kameron Brown 4 4-6 12, Djuan Green 2 3-3 8, Stephon Morency 1 0-0 2, Bryan Johnson 1 0-0 2, Aaron Ray 5 0-0 10. Totals: 26 11-17 63.

3-Pointers: Turner, Green.

Airport (13-3, 4-0 Region 5-AAA)—Quan Bovain 3 3-6 10, Josh Williamson 1 6-6 8, Benton Breeden 1 0-0 2, Sammy Frazier 11 0-0 22, Daniel Gillins 4 1-3 9, CJ Wright 4 4-6 12, Devron Goldwire 0 1-2 1. Totals; 24 15-23 64.

3-Pointers: Bovain.


WEST COLUMBIA — The Midland Valley High School girls' basketball team got off to a slow start in a Region 5-AAA game at Airport, and never rallied in a 56-37 setback. The Mustangs record fell to 5-12 and 2-2 in region play.

Airport led by eight points after the first quarter and never looked back. It turned a seven-point lead at halftime into a 14-point spread after three quarters. The Eagles were led by Kaela Mansell's 16 points and Shakeri Jennings-Shuler added another 11.

Amber Abney scored 13 points for Midland Valley, which will return to action on Tuesday against Strom Thurmond.

MV 5 13 12 7 – 37

AIR 13 12 19 12 – 56

Midland Valley (5-12, 2-2 Region 5-AAA)—Gracie Gunter 4 2-2 9, Amber Abney 4 5-8 13, Keielana Smith 2 0-0 4, Kieara Blocker 2 0-0 4, Erin Cunningham 0 1-2 1. Totals: 13 10-19 37.

3-Pointers: Gunter.

Airport—Kalila Williams 3 3-6 9, Kayla Sutton 3 2-4 8, Mikaila Kennedy 1 0-0 2, Jasmine Felder 1 0-0 2, Lexy Conyers 4 0-2 8, Kaela Mansell 7 1-2 16, Shakeri Jennings-Shuler 5 1-1 11. Totals: 24 7-15 56.

3-Pointers: Mansell.

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.