STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. - It was Eastside-Alcovy part two and the Eastside Eagles did just enough to walk away with a victory over their county rivals.
The Eagles had to come from behind in the late stages of the game against their county foes, the Alcovy Tigers, in the second round of the Greenberg and Price Annual Christmas Tournament in a tight 47-43 victory at Woodland High School.
The game would be decided on three clutch plays that had nothing to do with putting points on the board but kept the Tigers from having late scoring opportunities.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game and the Eagles clinging to a 44-43 lead, the Tigers were looking to inbound the ball. With a lob over the middle of the court on the inbound, the Eagles Fred Lewis jumped up at full extension and came down with the ball like a receiver on a fade route in the corner of the endzone.
As soon as Lewis hit the ground with the ball in his possession, the Eagles called a timeout and shrouded him with praise for the outstanding effort he had shown. Head coach Michael Gerald knew how important this effort play was, and a challenge issued by the Eagles head coach en route to the game may have lit a fire under Lewis.
"I talked to three or four guys on the bus on the way over here and having them dissect their play over the last couple of games, and he was one of the guys I talked to," Gerald said. "He accepted my challenge tonight and made some huge plays."
After the Eagles timeout, they inbounded the ball, and the Tigers immediately fouled, giving the Eagles a one-and-one opportunity at the line. The Eagles would miss the first free throw, but Chauncey Wiggins would go up and grab the rebound and kick the ball out to Myles Rice, who was immediately fouled with the clock under 20 seconds by this point.
Rice would hit his first free throw, but miss his second giving the Eagles just a two-point lead. However, that would not matter because Wiggins would come down with his 10th rebound of the game and kick it back out to Rice, who once again was immediately fouled.
Rice would hit both of his free throw attempts on his next trip at the line giving the Eagles a 47-43 lead that would eventually be the final. However, Gerald knew the importance of the aggression and effort shown by Wiggins on those two final rebounds.
"Huge. If he didn't do anything else great tonight, that was huge. We talk about having an impact game, and it takes plays like that," Gerald said. "Those two huge rebounds made it where we knew we didn't have to set up defense or anything, and we just had to wait for them to foul us and make free throws."
Wiggins was ecstatic that he was able to come down with the boards on those final plays and gave an idea of his thought process on how he could secure those last two rebounds.
"What's going throw my mind was that I hoped we would have made both (free throws), but if we didn't, I would push down with my leg and use my strength against Oliver (Gerard) and number 5 (Dylan Driver) since I have more height and length," Wiggins said. "I'm very proud because those were two excellent rebounds. I just knew I had to stay strong on those rebounds because they were coming for me."
It was no surprise to see Rice leading the Eagles in points as he finished with 21 on the night, and all Gerald could say in reference to Rice leading the team again was, "I'm just glad he's playing for us and not someone else."
A bit of a pleasant surprise for the Eagles on the stat sheet was big-man Jake Casola as the second-leading scorer with 11 points. Gerald was very pleased with his play and how he has responded to his challenge.
"He gave us exactly what we needed in that first half," Gerald said. "If we don't get those baskets, then we don't win this game. Everyone who played in this game had something to do with the outcome."
On the flip side, the Tigers leading scorer was Trevon Howze, who found his groove from the outside in this game. Howze finished with 15 points and made three 3-pointers. The Tigers also had Dylan Driver finishing in double digits on the night with 10 points.
Driver finished with another double-double with 12 rebounds and has been a consistent force as of late for the Tigers.
This is a hard loss to swallow for the Tigers as they dominated the game and had control up until the final few minutes.
If anything, this game proves not only the level of talent on the Eagles but also the Tigers and shows that there is quality basketball being played at all three Newton County schools.