The Heritage girls also made the playoffs, beating American in the opening round to set up a showdown with Liberty Friday, Feb. 26.
The Heritage boys ran away from Liberty en route to a 76-45 victory on Feb. 16, clinching the school’s first-ever Bay Valley Athletic League title in boys basketball. For good measure, the Blue and Gold was also victorious over the Antioch Panthers last Friday, staving off a late rally to secure a 56-54 win on Senior Night.
Despite the crosstown rivalry, the Heritage crowd was much smaller than expected, and conspicuously uninvolved during pregame warmups. But with a share of the league title in sight, the Heritage players were highly energized. Head coach Pat Cruickshank spoke of the team’s motivation: “I think that (title) may have been part of it, but the real focus was continuing to play at a level that we have been playing at for the last couple of months. I challenge these kids every night to play harder and more focused than they have in the previous game.”
The game started out slow. The Lions failed to take advantage of the Patriots’ sloppy play; instead matching it with equal carelessness. Patriot senior Mark Winthrop did manage to score eight in the opening frame, including two three-pointers, leading Heritage to a 12-7 edge after one.
The second quarter was a different story. Heritage opened up a 15-point lead on a 10-0 run to start the period. Winthrop tossed in two more treys from opposite sides of the baseline while little-used junior forward Xavier Watson came off the bench to score two quick buckets, one on a nice feed from fellow junior Dorian Hardy, forcing Liberty head coach Jon Heinz to call a quick timeout.
Liberty senior Garrett Slocum briefly stemmed the tide with a three-pointer from the left elbow at the 5:20 mark, only three of nine points the Lions scored the entire quarter. Heritage followed the 10-0 burst with runs of 6-2 and 12-4. With 2:24 remaining, junior Dorian Hardy generated some oohs and aahs with a no-look, over-the-head pass to senior Meniru Ofodu for a driving layup. The Patriots extended their lead to 40-16 at the half.
The third quarter was nearly a repeat of the second. Liberty did manage to create some offense as freshman Brandon White scored six in the quarter. But Lion turnovers spoiled any chance of a comeback. After White’s two free throws at the 4:31 mark, Heritage went on a 15-4 blitz that sealed the game.
“We are going to enjoy this for a couple of days,” said coach Cruickshank, “and then get ready for Antioch, and then the NCS playoffs.”
Preparation was definitely on display against the Panthers. Despite losing the rebound battle on nearly every missed shot, the Patriots managed to build a 13-point lead in the third quarter and held off Antioch for a season-ending victory.
A raucous Senior Night crowd inspired the Pats to start fast. Kevin Harrity scored 12 in the first quarter to spearhead Heritage to an 18-12 lead. Antioch’s senior Jordan Hoyle ended the quarter with a Gervin-like finger roll that wowed the crowd and gave the Panthers some momentum heading into the second quarter.
“Mo” then changed jerseys as Antioch bolted on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 20 with 5:01 remaining in the half. Junior Jamal Davis hit a 12-footer, senior center Kris Gallop tapped in a miss, and Hoyle made a long-range three and was fouled for a four-point play, eliciting a timeout from Coach Cruickshank. He inserted Watson, who promptly scored eight straight and helped restore the team’s lead to 31-25 at the half.
In the third, the Patriots extended their lead with improved ball security, solid defense and unselfish play. Four players tallied at least four points, Winthrop scoring on a driving layup with 4:32 remaining to push the Heritage lead to 39-28. Antioch countered with baskets by junior Jamal Davis and senior Evan Grimes. But the Panthers missed several point-blank attempts, mostly off offensive rebounds. When Winthrop nailed a three with :38 remaining in the period, the Patriots’ lead was 13 at 48-35.
The lid finally came off the rim for Antioch in the fourth, and offensive rebounds became easy put-backs. Junior Michael Crawley scored on a layup, Hoyle drilled a three-ball, and Grimes made a picture-perfect spin move for a layup, cutting the Heritage margin to 50-42 with 3:47 to play. As Antioch coach John Woolery urged his team to play tougher defense, the fouls began to mount, and the Patriots would need to win the game from the charity stripe.
The strategy was working; Heritage missed four of eight free throws while the Panthers were making baskets. Hoyle’s two free throws were sandwiched between two put-backs by senior Stanley Watkins to draw Antioch within four. Packard hit one of two from the line, but Hoyle was fouled on a three-ball attempt, and swished all three FTs to make it a 54-52 game. Packard’s two from the line iced the game with 10 seconds remaining.
Harrity paced Heritage with 15 points, followed by Watson’s 12 and Winthrop’s 10. Antioch was led by Hoyle’s game-high 23 points; Davis adding eight and Gallop finished with six points and seven blocked shots. The Senior Night victory was the cherry on top of a great week in Patriot boys basketball history.