East is a Beast! Eagles Win M7 Tourney - TribPapers

East is a Beast! Eagles Win M7 Tourney

East Eagle leading scorer Caiden Brewer drives toward Nathaniel Baird (24) and Zion McDaniel (3) of NHHS in the M7 tourney title game. East center Reece Alverson (0) is at left. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Waynesville – Sophomore scoring sensation Caiden Brewer and his fiery crew led East Henderson to a surprise and historic Mountain Seven Conference basketball tournament title last week, by upsetting its local league rivals West Henderson and then North Henderson.

East Henderson has won five games in a row, heading into state playoffs that began Tuesday. East squeezed into the 64-team, statewide 3A field that also includes West and North Henderson and Enka from the 4A/3A MAC.

Fourth-seeded East shocked the local sports world with a 59-47 conquest of top seed West Henderson on Valentine’s Day, then two days later thwarted third seed North Henderson’s offense in a 51-33 Mountain Seven tournament title victory. This is believed to be East boys’ first league championship ever in basketball. The tourney was held at Tuscola.

Tight ‘D,’ Patient Passing

North Knights have scored in the 90s, and even beat powerful Hendersonville. Yielding merely 33 points to these Knights is a crowning glory for the Eagle defense, fourth-year East head coach Marquintus Jones said. “Our guys clamped down on them. They had to work for every shot that they got. We avoided giving up ‘open looks’ (for shots). I challenged each of them to be better than the man they’re playing.”

Underdog East (14-13; 6-6 M7) came out on fire and earned huge early leagues in both triumphs. “I’ve been stressing for us to be extra aggressive for the first four minutes of games,” Coach Jones said. “We did. We shot well. We played solid defense.”

East doubled up the Knights at 28-14 and led 30-19 at halftime. Gritty forward Brady Nix scored a basket and a three-pointer — all five of his points — in a row to give East a 23-point lead at 47-24. Nix called that stretch “putting the dagger” into the Knights. East won by 18 points.

East outscored West by 17-12 in the second period to lead 27-22 at halftime, then by 14-8 in the third period to retain a solid lead. Nix’s three-pointer put East ahead by ten, at 44-34. He scored ten points, and had six rebounds against the taller Falcons.

After losing to West three times in the regular season, Coach Jones figured how to turn the tables in the M7 tourney. “I knew how we could beat them.” He rotated defenders to “face-guard” 20-point scorer Jackson Lyda for “the entire game.” It worked. Lyda managed merely 14 points, while fellow guard Lukas Kachilo (11.4 ppg.) scored 12. Lyda, a slender junior, said he faced “fresh legs” of the rotating defenders.

Jones said beating West was a “huge, huge high” for the players. Historic rivals East and West Henderson both opened in fall of 1960. Jones said he is happy that the Eagles are peaking at the perfect time — heading into playoffs. East opened at athletic Asheboro, with a drive of three hours. “They play through their forwards. We’ll be prepared.”

East is improving tremendously under Coach Jones. “We have the best coach in the league!,” Brewer proclaimed. “We knew we could win it. We executed.” He credits Jones’ tactics and motivation. Jones said “we feel we belong” among premier teams. He grew up near Memphis. Jones was a shooting guard for Limestone University, graduating in 2006.

Coach Jones instilled a disciplined, patient motion offense that Coach Phil Jackson made famous with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Jones said, “It’s about cutting at the right time” to get open for a pass and high-percentage shot.

Natural Scorer

East’s most Jordanesque scoring machine is Brewer, the slick, slender shooting guard. Coach Jones calls Brewer an instinctive player quick to adjust, and able to shoot off-balance. “He’s not necessarily a pure shooter. But he’s sure a scorer!”

Brewer (18.8 ppg.) exploded 26 points in the 79-73 win over Pisgah on Feb. 10, scored 16 against West and then 18 points versus NHHS. Guard Brewer scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half against West. He sank 10 of his 12 free throws. He snatched 14 rebounds and had six assists. Brewer had seven rebounds and six assists versus the Knights, and seven assists against Pisgah.

Six-foot-six Reece Alverson (13 ppg.) had a “double-double” with 11 rebound and 12 points in the title victory. He dunked twice. Alverson erupted in round one for 20 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Point guard Wyatt Taylor scored 14 points in that game. Nix added ten points and nine rebounds.

Alverson, an exceptional baseball pitcher, “uses his length to protect the rim and alter shots,” Jones said. “He doesn’t let heavier big guys ‘body’ him.” Alverson said of West, “they’re strong. It felt great beating them.”

Both Nix and Taylor “worked their way into our starting lineup,” Jones noted. Since then, “we’ve gone into a better direction. Their tenacious attitude is so critical.” Nix said “our pieces are coming together.”

M7 Top Seed Falcons

West Henderson boys (17-8; 11-1 M7) won their conference regular season for the first time in 17 years, by a game over Franklin. Brandon Brooks is their head coach. West won the Mountain Seven in football and now basketball, and is the reigning baseball champ.

Supplementing Lyda’s 20 points per game is a strong nucleus of Falcons. Kachilo, the star football quarterback, is an aggressive guard. Six-foot-six senior Lawson Sullivan, rugged juniors Grant Putnam and Truitt Manuel, and senior reserves Tyler Nash and Cameron Banks enable West to usually control the boards. Most of them are football receivers.

Knights Skin Panthers

Third seed North Henderson Knights (18-9; 10-3) defeated Smoky Mountain 99-90 on Feb. 9 in round one, and beat second seed Franklin (20-5; 10-2) by 59-55 in a semifinal game.

Noah Pierce scored 20 points versus FHS. He sank six three-pointers. He felt “very happy” after beating Franklin.

FHS led the close game much of the way. The Panthers’ 6-8 senior Cal Drake (17.5 ppg.) scored 20 points, but had merely six rebounds thanks to effort of lanky center Josh Heiny and a box-and-one defense.

Swift Zion Fauntleroy-McDanield stole the ball and fed point guard Micah Pierce for a fast break basket, then senior Nathaniel “Nugget” Baird scored to give the Knights a commanding 57-48 late lead over FHS. Zion, a junior, out-jumps taller foes to snare offensive rebounds. “Z and Nugget are such tough kids,” head coach Justin Parris said. “They help get us going.”

Four Knights average double figures. They are junior Bryson Rowe (13 ppg.), senior Heiny (11.5), and the Pierce brothers — freshman Noah (14.4), and senior Micah (10 ppg.) who averages an abundant 7.2 assists. The Pierces’ maternal grandfather is the late Henderson County commissioner Charlie Messer. The county’s Health and Human Services building is named in Messer’s honor.

North Knights excelled against the league’s top two teams in the regular season. FHS edged NHHS 96-92 in three overtimes on Dec. 20. North Knights got payback by a 69-62 count on Jan. 27, then in the M7 tourney.

The Knights came close to beating West. The Falcons prevailed 58-56 at NHHS on Dec. 9, then by 70-65 at home on Jan. 17. The Knights beat Hendersonville 71-56 in December, as Rowe registered career-bests with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Micah Pierce scored 17 and had eight boards.

Bearcats Win Tourney

Hendersonville (23-3; 11-1 MFC) defeated new arch-rival Rutherfordton-Spindale (R-S) Central (18-9, 10-2) by 84-73 Friday at home, to win the Mountain Foothills tournament. HHS beat Patton 67-57 in a semifinal. R-S won the regular season and MFC titles a season ago. HHS won both crowns this time.

“It’s big to win conference,” especially against the rival Hilltoppers, burly 6-4 C.J. Landrum said. He scored 18 points. Six-nine senior “Mikey” Wilkins scored 32 points for R-S, but not enough late. The teams combined for 90 second-half points.

Malachi Simpson, the lanky 6-6 center, scored a career-best 38 points for HHS. The sophomore star scored 25 points in the second half, including 15 in the final period. His brother, 6-4 senior Jacobi Simpson, scored nine points. Eric Rasheed and Alijah Ferguson each scored six points.

Veteran HHS head coach Marvin Featherstone said, “We got into transition. That’s what we do best. We defend, get rebounds, and easy baskets” on fast breaks. Malachi Simpson was pleased about running R-S off the court. “We run. We go,” he said. “We work hard in practice on our transition game.”

West Region 2A fifth seed HHS is on track to host athletic 12th seed Shelby Thursday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in round two. Landrum said, “We plan to win state.”

Lady Falcons, Cats

Both West Henderson and HHS were runners-up in their respective girls’ league tourneys. Hendersonville (17-9) beat Polk County 67-52 in a MFC semifinal, but lost 57-50 to top seed East Rutherford (25-2; also 11-1) in the finals.

HHS destroyed Chase 64-17 and 53-15, obliterated R-S 59-16 and 68-16, grounded Patton 70-27 and 56-26, and thrashed usual powerhouse Polk (7-5) by 51-28 and 52-34 in the regular season. Stephen Rogers, former Brevard sharpshooter, is the Lady Bearcat head coach.

Lady Cat senior guard Mia Hansen (16.2 ppg., 8 reb.) is just behind Polk’s Bailey Staton (16.7) among MFC scorers. Catherine Clemente, a tall 6-2 HHS junior, averaged 11 rebounds and 9.4 points.

Second seed West Lady Falcons (21-6, 9-3 M7) edged third-seeded Franklin (9-3) 58-56 in a semifinal. Alyson Garcia scored 18 and West’s leading scorer Jaza Wilson (13 ppg.) scored 14. Jaza’s twin, Jania Wilson, scored 12 in the 60-41 loss to top seed Pisgah (21-4, 12-0) in the tournament finals. The Wilson twins are sophomore guards. Kaycee Beyer is their head coach.

North Henderson (7-17; 4-8 M7) fell 54-39 to Smoky Mountain in a tourney opener.