Energy that high school basketball players bring to the court is nothing short of impressive and eye-opening, even in defeat.
The Newton Rams (2-1, 0-1 Region 2-AAAAA) were dealt their first loss of the young season Tuesday night as their late rally from a 10-point deficit fell just short, losing a tough region game 51-47 to the Douglass Astros (3-0, 1-0).
Both teams fought hard as Newton senior Sean Monk and Douglass' Jared Stokes went back and forth all night. The biggest difference was the incredible shooting of the visiting Astros, as they were terrific from behind the 3-point arc.
Stokes made five of his team's 10 three-pointers in the contest and always seemed to make the big shot at a key moment.
"They just flat wore it out and made jumpers for four quarters," said Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen. "I'm not sure if it's the drinking water in Douglass or what, but if they don't hit just two or three of those it's a totally different ball game."
Monk, who led all scorers with 18 points, was also hitting on all cylinders in the first quarter as the Rams trailed early, 16-13. Newton senior Montrell Grimes electrified the rowdy crowd with an up and under basket and later a beautiful double-pump shot, which knotted things at 19 with five minutes and 11 seconds remaining in the second.
"Sean really stepped up for us again," said Rasmussen. "He was saddled with two fouls in the first quarter after scoring eight points, and we played the rest of the first half without him."
With Monk on the bench with his two early fouls, junior Demetrius McCray (nine points and seven rebounds) really stepped up for the Rams.
Douglass then began to heat up from the perimeter. Stokes made a couple of deep treys and junior Willie Waters was all over the court blocking shots, rebounding and getting his teammates involved.
"I thought my kids battled and we gave a good effort," said Rasmussen. "You just have to give Douglass credit. We just couldn't get things to go our way."
Newton trailed 30-28 at the half and seemed poised for a strong second half. After both teams struggled to open the third, Douglass knocked down back-to-back 3's, extending its lead, 36-28.
But sophomore Tevin Bradley did an excellent job keeping the Rams within striking distance in the third with a couple of key baskets.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game - one that fueled Newton's comeback attempt - was delivered by Jamon Hawkins, as he stole the ball and raced down the floor to nail an eight-foot jumper, capping a 6-0 run as time expired in the third quarter.
"We're not going to quit," said Rasmussen. "We're going to play the best we can and the kids hustled. Douglass made shots and we just didn't make enough to keep up with them."
As the momentum began to go in the direction of Newton, the Astros went into a four corners offense with 6:45 to go. This seemed to energize the Rams even further as Monk tried to assert himself.
Monk, who was double-teamed all night, then began to try and carry the Rams back. Consecutive baskets by the talented upperclassman tied it at 42 with 3:30 to go in the contest. After Douglass took away his outside game, Monk started to take the ball to the hoop, making some nifty shots along the way.
But Stokes was simply too much for Newton down the stretch, as he buried another three-pointer and made a fast break layup to put his team up for good, 47-42. A late Monk steal and basket, followed by a thunderous jam by Grimes, were too little, too late as Douglass' Rodney Wright iced the game at the free-throw line.
"To be honest, I think that most teams who give up 10 three's would get blown out," said Rasmussen. "We fought through it pretty well. We forced a lot of turnovers and put a lot of pressure on them in the second half."