Fighting to finish

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2003

CLINTON &045; Here at the MPSA Overall tournament no one cares which classification you are, how big your school is or which state you come from.

But you can’t overlook the mileage.

It’s the rigorous schedule for everyone getting to the big show with tournament after tournament. It’s tough for those Class A schools, and Trinity Episcopal battled Class AAA Hillcrest Christian to the end before the Cougars took a 63-55 win Friday to move into the championship game at 3 p.m. today.

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The Saints, who cut the lead to four with just over a minute to play, couldn’t hit a couple baskets late.

&uot;We played hard all game long,&uot; Trinity head coach David King said. &uot;We played as hard as we could, but we can’t be upset. I’d love to look back and say we should have done this, that or the other, but 33 wins are a lot of wins. Our kids battled all year long. Our legs just got tired at the end. I really think the state tournament took a lot out of us.&uot;

That may have been the case at the end as the Cougars got two huge stops defensively to keep the Saints from getting any closer on the scoreboard. Hillcrest &045; who scrapped their zone defense early in the game &045; got some stops in the halfcourt defense that held the Saints to just one field goal in the final minute.

The stops helped the Cougars move into the championship game, their fourth appearance in there in the last five years.

&uot;I can’t say enough about my kids,&uot; Hillcrest head coach Penn Majors said. &uot;They’re playing so hard and want to win this thing so badly. They’re scratching, clawing and battling. It’s a credit to them. Both teams played well. When you get to this point, you have a lot of games where both teams deserve to win.&uot;

The Saints (33-6) trailed almost all of the second half but never went away. The Cougars got the lead at 55-44 when Wes Burleson hit two free throws at the 2:28 mark, but the Saints got three straight baskets from Chase Brown to trim the lead down to 55-50.

Wes Prather hit a bucket for the Cougars for a 57-50 lead, but Gregory Ketchings tossed in a 3-pointer at the 1:02 mark to put Hillcrest’s lead at 57-53.

The Cougars were spotty from the line up until that point, and Drew Delaughter missed one of two free throws for a 58-53 lead with 59 seconds left. That’s when Hillcrest got the first of two big steals to get the ball back and force Trinity to foul.

&uot;We knew it wasn’t over to begin with,&uot; said Hillcrest’s Chris Posey, who finished with 16 points behind Walker Moeller’s team-leading 21. &uot;We had to get two big steals. If we had two big steals and hit our free throws, that would be the ball game.&uot;

Burleson went to the line and hit one two, and the Saints got a basket from Brown with 39 seconds left to put the HC lead at 59-55. The Saints put Burleson back on the line with 33 seconds left, but this time he hit both for a six-point lead.

The Cougars got their second swipe on the other end of the floor, forced Trinity to foul and Moeller hit two free throws with 11 seconds left to seal it.

&uot;They had cut it from 11 to (four),&uot; Majors said. &uot;Their strategy at the end had started to work. They were just fouling us to see if we’d miss the free throws. They got it close. When you’ve got to try to depend on people missing free throws when you’re 11 down, they’ve got to miss a lot of those.&uot;

The Saints took a one-point lead in the third quarter before the Cougars hit some big shots late to take a 47-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Chase Brown’s bucket at the 5:04 mark gave Trinity its only lead of the second half, 34-33, before the Cougars got a basket from Posey and a three-point play from Moeller for a 38-34 lead.

After Marcus Archer tossed in a basket to trim the lead to 40-38, the Cougars put in their only 3-pointers of the game &045; one from Chandler Pleasant and one from Moeller &045; for a 46-39 lead with 59 seconds left.

&uot;We didn’t factor (Posey) in as much as we should have,&uot; King said. &uot;We had to stop Walker Moeller and Burleson, but No. 42 (Posey) had a really good ball game. But they’ve been here, and I think experience helped them at the end. At this point with only four teams, left, everybody is well-coached, well-conditioned and well-schooled. They’ve got a good ball club &045; they really do.&uot;

The Saints started the game strong with the help of the inside game of Dudley Guice Jr. and Mike Lickliter. They held Hillcrest scoreless for almost the first four minutes and got a basket from Guice to take a 9-2 lead at the 2:34 mark.

Guice &045; who led the Saints with 19 points &045; out-jumped a double-team on the block and tossed in a bucket with seven seconds left for a 12-8 Trinity lead heading into the second quarter.

&uot;If he gets the ball where he wants it, he’s too big and too good (to stop),&uot; Majors said. &uot;We tried to front him and get some backside help. We knew he’s big enough and good enough to score. I don’t know how many he got, but I’m sure he got many.&uot;

In the second quarter the Cougars made a run to get back into the game. Aaron Parker hit a basket to start a 12-0 run that ended with a Posey basket at the 4:41 mark for a 20-14 Hillcrest lead.

Trinity answered as a basket from Lickliter knotted it up at 20-20 with 3:17 left, but Moeller later put in a three-point play at the 1:23 mark for a 25-22 lead.

&uot;They have five seniors to our one,&uot; King said. &uot;I think their seniors realized this was their last go-around. But I can’t ask any more of our kids. We’ve got a really good group coming back. They all play football, and we’ll try to win a state championship in football. Then we’ll get back in the gym and try to get back here again. It’s a great experience for them.&uot;