By Mark Clark
There was a showdown in Smiths on Monday night when the Central High Red Devils and Smiths Station High Panthers went an extra period to determine the top hoops team in Area 4. Central ultimately won the game 70-63 but the game was much closer than the final score indicated.
As time was nearing an end in regulation and with Central leading by four points, 56-52, Smiths Station’s Stevie Pringle tossed a bomb into the basket with 4.6 seconds to play to cut the margin to a point at 56-55. He was fouled on the play, sank the ensuing free-throw to tie the game and sent the two teams into an overtime period tied 56-56.
In the four-minute overtime period, Central’s DeAnthony Miles gave his team a two point lead with 3:34 and 33 seconds later Tremaine Porter sank a basket and a free throw to up the margin to five points at 61-56. But that did not put away the Panthers hopes of challenging for the Area 4 title.
With 55 seconds left on the clock, Pringle nailed a pair of free tosses to cut the Central lead to 64-63. Just 19 seconds later, Central senior Justyn Ross drove the baseline to the basket to score. He was fouled on the play and sank the free throw to put the Red Devils up by four points at 67-63. Central scored three more points before the clock expired to win 70-63.
“You should not have to work this hard to win a high school basketball game. I have got to get these kids to start thinking with their heads. We were playing like we were behind when we had the lead. At the end of regulation, we were up by four points and we knew they would try a three-point shot. All we had to do was let him shoot it uncontested and the game would have been pretty much over. All they could have done was foul us and give us two free throws and there was only four or five seconds to play,” Central coach Bobby Wright said.
With the win, Central upped its season record to 15-1 and secured the Area 4 title outright even though they will have to play Auburn High on Friday at the Central Freshman Academy gym. Central is 3-0 in the area. Smiths Station was 1-2 after Monday’s loss and was scheduled to play Auburn on Tuesday with a chance to secure second place. Even with a loss, the Panthers could still get second if the tiebreakers go their way. The victory for the Red Devils gave Central its 12th consecutive Area 4 title either shared or outright and it gives the Red Devils an automatic berth in the Regional Tournament after the Area 4 Tournament. Smiths Station and Auburn will face each other in the first round of the area tournament for a chance to play Central for the top seed from Area 4 in the regional. The loser of the area tournament championship game will be the No. 2 seed for Area 44 in the regional.
“I excited for the kids. I am especially pleased to win the title outright. Winning the area outright says volumes about our kids and our program. We have established a winning tradition and we want it to keep on lasting. Games like tonight make us stronger and better. We just have to learn to be more patient. We play so aggressive that it’s hard to change the pace when we need to. We have to learn how to close out a game. We are not as mental as I want them to be right now, but we are improving,” Wright said.
Tremaine Porter led Central’s scorers with 18 points against Smiths Station. Three other Red Devils scored in double figures – Donald Jackson had 13, Tremere Brown scored 12 and Miles had 14.
Eric Butler was the high scorer for Smiths Station and for the game with 22 points. Pringle had 19 points for the night.
Central lost its first game of the season last Saturday night at Russell County, 58-51. Central led 33-27 at the half, but Russell County tied the game heading into the final quarter at 41-41. Russell County outscored Central 17-10 in the final eight minutes to win 58-51. Devonte Mathews had 13 points to lead Central in scoring and Porter added 10 points. Rodney Battle led Russell County with 15 points while Damen Lloyd and JaQuon Pritchett each had 12 points.
Central was slated to face Shaw High of Columbus at home this past Tuesday night. Tomorrow night the Red Devils are at home to face Auburn and then celebrate Senior Night on Saturday at home against Northview High of Dothan.