Hendersonville’s fast, fearless and tenacious “Guardians of the Cat Galaxy” out-clawed rival Mountain Heritage 55-41 in the Bearcats- Cougars Cat-scratch Classic last Saturday night, to reach the West Region 2A basketball finals this week.
The West top seed advanced to regional finals, which were Tues- day against third-seeded North Lincoln. The victor plays for the state title this Saturday, against a low (ninth or 15th) seed in either high-scoring Farmville Central or Northeastern.
“Bring them on!,” HHS head coach Marvin Featherstone said. He said in thwarting Heritage rallies, “we were bound and determined to win. We want to be (state) champions.” HHS last won it all in basketball in 1991-92.
Hendersonville also turned up the intensity Saturday in football, winning its pandemic-delayed opener in a dramatic 35-27 come-back over Polk at home. West Henderson lost 28-14 at Owen, also Saturday afternoon. North Henderson won 28-14 at East Henderson, in steady and chilly rain Friday night.
Basketball Bearcats surged through three playoff rounds last week, as West Region top seed. The Tribune nicknames them “Guardians” after the film superheroes since they are led by a trio of guards, making the sport their galaxy.
Dwight Canady, a strong and swift junior, led scorers with 17 points Saturday. He pulled in seven rebounds and made five steals. Lighting-fast sophomore Keenan Wilkins tallied 14 points and four steals. They both average over 20 points.
Senior sparkplug Carson Redden, a fourth-year varsity starter, made eight rebounds and four steals. Center Alex Lemmens and Jake Ross each scored nine points.
The Cats battled bigger Cougars on the boards and for loose balls. “I love battling big guys,” Lemmens said. HHS outrebounded MHHS 28-27.
HHS has Fierce Pressure and Pace
HHS forced 30 turnovers, versus 13 of its own. The Bearcats played briskly in a full-court press, with amazing control and precision. Canady credits “chemistry we have” for timing, such as in tightly double-teaming when “trapping” a ball handler. He hawked 6-foot- 5 guard Logan Higgins, who is seven inches taller than him. “We come together as a team,” Keenan Wilkins said. “All of us contribute.”
The emotion was sizzling. Carson Redden said, “the crowd energized us.” Fans were limited mostly to players’ parents before indoor gathering caps eased Fri- day from 100 up to 250 people or 30 percent capacity — whichever is fewer.
Redden said fellow seniors loudly rooted them on. Henderson County Public Schools Supt. Dr. John Bryant is “thrilled” students can get “closer to normal. When fans cheer, it’s critically important to live performances” in athletics and the arts.
Heritage grabbed an 11-10 lead to close the first period. HHS led the rest of the way, outscoring MHHS 18-11 in the second be- hind three-pointers by Wilkins and Ross. The Cats led 28-22 at halftime, then outscored MHHS by four in each of the final two stanzas for a 14-point victory.
The Cougars slowed tempo when they could. But the much faster Bearcats ran those other cats ragged, pressing full-court and igniting fast-break buckets with steals. Impressively, the smaller but feistier Bearcats bumped taller and bulkier Cougars when driving for baskets or diving for loose balls.
Six of 13 Cougars (“Not-so-Jolly Green Giants”) are at least 6-3, versus two Bearcats. Six-three Avery Crane led MHHS with 13 points. His father, 1990 West grad Clint Crane, holds Falcon rebounding records.
Hendersonville lit it up in the playoffs. Canady poured in 39 as HHS shot lead through Thomasville Ledford 83-64 on Feb. 23. Two days later, Wilkins drilled Atkins for 42 in an 89-82 triumph. The Camels could not get “over the hump” against HHS’s press.
Earlier, Canady scored 23 and Wilkins added 27 as HHS beat Pisgah 88-72 to win the M6 tourney on Oct. 18. That was the first time in 2020-21 HHS did not lead entering the final period; they were tied.
HHS Rallies for Football Win
In football Saturday, HHS trailed historic rival Polk 27-19 but rallied. First was a 17-yard TD pass passed for 235 yards — with more than half (127) to fast Peterkin (18 ypc.) including for a 17-yard score.
Gosnell said getting the come-back win feels “amazing.” He felt adrenalin up but under control, in his Bearcat debut. HHS head coach Jim Sosebee said Gosnell calmly “kept firing” accurate pass- es and running well.
Dorian Allen made a leaping acrobatic “Tykel (Landrum) Special” catch. Jayleon Gaines ran for 95 yards and a Bearcat TD. JuJuan Givens twice downed Polk’s punter — once for a safety. Ellis Hunter’s sack of Casey Beiler squelched Polk’s last gasp, with 43 seconds left.
“Play hard like that, and good things happen,” Sosebee assured the Bearcats post-game. Polk head coach Bruce Ollis noted that four times HHS faced third and 20 or more yards, yet got first downs.
The night before, North Henderson’s Trevon Hill — a transfer from Roberson — ran for 156 play from new quarterback Gavin Gosnell to Tristan Peterkin. Polk stopped the try for two.
The Cats seized the lead on Gosnell’s five-yard scamper to the right, with 9:35 to go. Cooper King kicked two field goals. Gosnell, a junior transfer from East, yards and two TD at East. Dylan Blackwell ran in a 35-yard fumble recovery. The Eagles battled back, with two TD runs by new QB Isaac Burleson.
In football this Friday, West hosts NHHS. East is at Owen, and HHS is at Heritage.