Clutch performer

East Wilkes sophomore guard Braxton Long, here pictured earlier in the season, hit a clutch 3-pointer Monday against Elkin and scored his team’s final 14 points in an upset of Ashe County on Feb. 9.

To keep their 1A state playoff chances alive, the East Wilkes varsity boys had to win all three of its games this week and hope that Starmount lost at least two of its last three.

Two of those Cardinals wins had to come on back-to-back days against rival Elkin, a team that faced the exact same scenario: win, win and win (and get some help from Starmount’s opponents) or go home.

East checked the first box Monday in Ronda, turning back the Buckin’ Elks, 52-49, in a Mountain Valley 1A/2A Athletic Conference matchup.

The Cardinals improved to 6-6 while Elkin, in falling to 5-7, was eliminated from playoff contention.

East didn’t get the help it needed from Alleghany on Monday. Starmount tripped up the Trojans in Boonville, 46-31, and won its fifth straight game.

To make the state playoffs, East must win two road games in three days: at Elkin on Tuesday and at North Wilkes on Thursday.

Wes Rousseau’s club must also hope that Starmount is tripped up at home Tuesday against North Wilkes and Thursday at Alleghany.

On Monday, the Cardinals were down 49-46 with 1:21 to play but Ledger Blackburn made a steal to give East possession with a minute left.

Dylan Ward penetrated near the top of the key and dished to Braxton Long, who canned the 3-pointer from the left wing and tied the game at 49-all with 58.8 seconds remaining.

Long continued his late-game heroics for East this past week. He scored his club’s final 14 points—nine coming on a flurry of treys—in a 49-46 upset of league-leading Ashe County on Feb. 9.

After an Elkin timeout, East’s Bryson Sidden stole the ball and, after dribbling the ball up court, signaled for a timeout with 31.6 seconds to play.

On the ensuing possession, Ward dribbled into the lane, made a running five-footer and was fouled on the shot with 3.6 seconds remaining. He tacked on the free throw to complete the scoring.

Elkin’s Brennen Robinson misfired on a long two at the buzzer. Had he connected, it still would not have tied the game because his foot was on the 3-point line.

North trips West

North Wilkes downed West Wilkes in Millers Creek on Friday, 62-50, for a season sweep of the Blackhawks.

“I want to give a lot of credit to Coach (Scottie) Greene and West Wilkes,” said Logan Call, the North coach. “He does such a great job with them on the offensive end and I knew they would be really hard to defend, despite what happened at our place (a 40-27 Viking victory).”

Senior guard Zack Carlton had a game-high 20 points for North and “was great once again and is playing at the highest level he ever has for us,” noted Call. “He carried us early in the game when we struggled some on the offensive end. He continues to defend at a high level and that is one of the biggest reasons we are winning games now.”

The Vikings made 24-of-25 free throws, which Call said was huge. “Over the past week we have done a much better job attacking and we are getting to the line much more and it is helping us win games.”

Call continued, “I am really happy of how our guys are finding different ways to win games. We have relied on our defense to win games this year, but the past couple we have really executed well late in games on the offensive end to win games. We have really emphasized executing and limiting turnovers in practice and the guys are doing a much better job.”

North’s Colby Brown added 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half. “Colby scored several huge baskets late to give us some separation and he continues to play with great energy and effort,” said Call.

Call said Zach Wyatt “gave us some great minutes and was very active rebounding the ball. We need his physicality to win a big game at Starmount on Tuesday.”

North needed to win at Starmount on Tuesday and against East Wilkes on Thursday for a chance at a MVAC championship and 2A state playoff berth. That scenario also required losses by 8-3 Ashe County at Wilkes Central and West Wilkes this week.

The Vikings improved to 7-5 while the Blackhawks stumbled to 3-8.

Starmount dispatches Central

Starmount dropped Wilkes Central in Moravian Falls on Friday, 60-48. It was the Eagles’ first home loss of the season.

The Eagles led 29-28 at halftime but were outscored 19-10 in the third period. The Rams maintained at least an eight-point lead in the final quarter.

The Rams, which opened the 14-game regular-season race with three straight losses, improved to 7-4 while the Eagles slipped to 6-6.

Alleghany foils East

Alleghany upset East Wilkes in Ronda on Friday, 40-38, putting a damper on the Cardinals’ 1A state playoff hopes.

Bryson Sidden drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to pull the Cardinals to within three points of the visitors, 39-36, with 1:30 to play. Following a Trojan misfire, East’s Braxton Long missed a trey from the corner but Dylan Ward followed up in the lane to make it 39-38 with 55 seconds left. Alleghany’s Brock McKnight then made 1-of-2 free throws with 27.2 seconds to play.

East had two chances in the final seconds, but Mikey Darnell missed from the foul line with 15 ticks left and then Sidden had the ball stripped before he could attempt a last-second shot.

The Trojans improved to 3-6 while the Cardinals dropped to 5-6, two games behind 7-4 Starmount for the MVAC’s 1A playoff berth.

Eagles blast Trojans

Wilkes Central routed Alleghany in Moravian Falls on Feb. 9, 55-21.

“I was really proud of our team’s effort,” said Central Coach Matt Hagaman. “We were focused, played hard and did a lot of good stuff, especially on the defensive end of the floor. I also like how we were in ‘attack mode’ on offense all night, looking inside, and getting to the basket.”

Hagaman said, “I’ve got to give a nod to my man Brian Hartley, who had a big night for us” with 10 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter.

Jonah Brooks paced the Eagles with 11 points, while Zach Mastin added seven. Ryan Bottomley had 10 points for the Trojans, who fell to 2-6.

The Eagles bettered to 6-5 and, like North Wilkes, trail Ashe County by a game a half in the MVAC standings.

North drops Elkin

North Wilkes edged Elkin in Hays on Feb. 9, 59-56.

Elkin’s Landon Jackson made a 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds left to pull the visitors within two. After North’s Grayson Lamb made 1-of-2 free throws with 7 seconds remaining, Jackson misfired on a 25-footer at the buzzer.

“I was very happy with how we played last night,” said Logan Call, the Viking coach. “I was really proud of our guys’ resilience and mental toughness as they stayed the course and never stopped believing we would win.

“We made some big plays and shots throughout the game, but we defended well in the half court even when Elkin was doing some good things offensively.”

Zack Carlton led North with 19 points—which included five 3-pointers—six rebounds and three steals. “Zack has played like the best player in the league over the past week and a half. His commitment to defense and rebounding has really changed us. He took on the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player and without him doing that, we don’t win this game,” said Call.

Caleb Souther had nine points and four rebounds and, according to Call, was “once again our rock inside and his defensive rebounding and leadership helped us through a couple of tough stretches in the game.”

Call said Trystan Walker scored only one point but was a “huge part of us handling Elkin’s full court pressure late and I am not sure we can win the game without his minutes.”

Colby Brown, who added 10 points and five rebounds, “played fewer minutes than usual due to match-ups and full court pressure, but he was 4-4 from the field and helped us tremendously on the defensive glass,” said Call.

Lamb chipped in with 12 points and “made two huge 3s. Every member of our team gave us quality minutes and helped us to find a way to win.”

The Vikings moved to 6-5 and within a game and a half of Ashe County at the top of the MVAC. The Buckin’ Elks fell to 5-5.

Rams trip West in 2 OT

Starmount edged West Wilkes in double overtime on Feb. 9 in Boonville, 48-42.

With three minutes left in the second extra period, Jaxson Tribble tied it a 42-all with a jumper. Trailing by two with less than a minute remaining, Dawson Osborne’s runner in the lane misfired, and the Rams made 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

With the win, the Rams improved to 6-4 and move to within a game of leaguer leader Ashe County, which has dropped three straight. The Blackhawks faltered to 3-7.

East upsets Ashe

East Wilkes handed league-leader Ashe County its third straight loss on Feb. 9 in Ronda, 49-46.

“Playing the number-one team at your place, you have a real opportunity to make a statement, and we did,” said East Coach Wes Rousseau. “We struggled offensively the first three quarters but we played hard-nosed defense to keep it close.”

The game was tied at 32-all when East’s Tate Samples sank a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:00 to play, giving the Cardinals a lead they would never relinquish. It was Samples’ seventh trey of the game en route to a game-high 23 points.

East’s Braxton Long scored his club’s final 14 points. He connected on a trio of treys with 2:45, 2:05 and 1:26 left—the last providing a 44-36 lead and prompting an Ashe timeout—and then made a layup and 3-of-4 free throws to seal the win.

“Braxton’s threes were super, super clutch,” said Rousseau. “In crunch time we scored 27 points in the fourth quarter. I’m proud of the way the guys rose to the occasion. It was a must-win game if we wanted to stay in the playoff hunt.”

Austin Poe led Ashe with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Cardinals, in avenging a 20-point loss at Ashe on Jan. 19, improved to 5-5 while the Huskies slip to 7-3. East moved to within a game of 6-4 Starmount for the MVAC’s lone 1A playoff berth.

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