Bearcat Boys, Rocket Squads Advance Furthest - TribPapers
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Bearcat Boys, Rocket Squads Advance Furthest

Leading Bearcat scorer Malachi Simpson (20.2 ppg.) dunks the ball against Shelby, as his elder brother Jacobi Simpson (5) leaps and whoops it up. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville, Asheville – Hendersonville Bearcats and A.C. Reynolds Rockets and Lady Rockets each won two playoff games to advance furthest in basketball state playoffs, among Buncombe and Henderson County public high schools.

All three ended their seasons with defeats on Saturday. West Region 4A ninth seed A.C. Reynolds Rockets (18-11) fell in round three on Saturday, at number one seed Myers Park (25-4) by a 74-42 score.

ACR boys are coached by Ryan Stevens. They beat West Forsyth Titans 63-58 on Feb. 21 for the program’s first playoff win in five years. ACR trounced Sun Valley by ten points at 83-73 in round two. Reynolds beat Sun Valley and its quarterback Sam Howell in two straight football playoffs. Howell went on to star for UNC, and is in line to start for Washington in the NFL this fall.

In the playoff opener, senior forward DaShawn Stone (10.1 ppg.) scored 19 points to lead ACR and to nearly double his seasonal average. The two leading Rocket scorers for the season are sophomore wing Declan Brown (15.5 PPG) and senior guard Jayden Harper (12.2).

Lady Rockets Blast Away

Reynolds Lady Rockets (22-8) replicated their post-season of a year ago, by reaching the third round. The 4A fifth seeds were the last-surviving local girls’ squad this time. The Lady Rockets lost 56-37 at fourth seed North Mecklenburg (27-2) in round three.

Reynolds beat Cuthbertson 55-43 in round one. Center Jenna Barnes scored ten of her 16 points in the final period. Landyn Stewart scored 14, and Peyton Harvey scored 12 points. These three are newly-honored all-MAC stars.

The Lady Rockets thumped 12th seed Charlotte Myers Park 56-47 in round two, to avenge two road losses to the Mustangs in the regular season. Harvey (11.5 PPG) led the way with 18 points. “Peyton had a great game,” ACR head coach Amanda Whitaker said.

Barnes (13.7 PPG) tallied 15 rebounds and 12 points. Stewart contributed 14 points and eight boards. Those two scored ACR’s initial 11 points of the final period. “Our bigs Landyn and Jenna took over in the fourth,” Coach Whitaker said. “We pounded the ball inside, and they couldn’t match us.”

Burly C.J. Landrum (32) beats three Shelby defenders to the basket. He led HHS with 21 points. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Burly C.J. Landrum (32) beats three Shelby defenders to the basket. He led HHS with 21 points. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Defensively, an adjustment at halftime shut down Mustang point guard Kamora Cannie, who had a big first half. “We face-guarded her,” Coach Whitaker said. “She never scored again, in the second half.” ACR also forced several turnovers.

Myers Park beat 21st seed T.C. Roberson (17-10) by 52-43 in an opener. TCR’s top scorer is junior Ryann Hernandez (13 PPG). Also in round one, 4A tenth seed Asheville Lady Cougars (24-3) beat West Forsyth 58-40. AHS lost in round two at South Mecklenburg, by 79-57. MAC Player of the Year Evangelia Paulk, a senior, averaged 18 points to pace MAC scorers, with senior all-MAC teammate Kirsten Watt (15.8) next.

Clawing Cats

Hendersonville Bearcats (25-4), the West Region’s fifth seed in 2A, won two games before falling 58-40 at fourth seed East Gaston (26-2) Saturday night.

Coach Marvin Featherstone’s crew administered a 20-point turnaround to whip equally athletic Shelby (18-8) by ten points at home last Thursday in round two. The final score was 74-64 in a game of spurts.

“Just like football!,” HHS student fans shouted in the end. Hendersonville shocked the vaunted Shelby football team two seasons ago, in a long playoff run.

C.J. Landrum played his best hoops game yet. He matched his average of 13 points in the second half alone, totaling a game-best 21 points. Bulky 6-foot-3 Landrum, a football sack-master lineman, blends power and moves for HHS on the hardcourt. The junior looked unstoppable against Shelby, starting with six points in the opening period. But he did not get the ball much in period two, when Shelby outscored HHS 20-11 to lead 37-28 at the break.

At halftime, Coach Featherstone urged his players to go more to Landrum inside. They did. Landrum out-muscled the center guarding him, and was quick on his feet to swivel around post defenders for layups. Teammate Jacobi Simpson said Landrum has “the best footwork” of any big man around.

Hendersonville outscored Shelby 46-27 in the second half — by 19-12 in the third period to trail by merely two points, and 27-15 to pull away in the final period.

The Simpsons

Lanky senior wing player Jacobi Simpson (13 PPG) said, “we pick up each other” such as by taking turns with hot shooting. He is among three different Bearcats who led the team in scoring in the last three contests.

His sophomore brother Malachi Simpson looks nearly like Jacobi’s twin, and at 6-6 is two inches taller. In spurts of many games, these brothers turn a contest into a local athletic version of the hit TV show The Simpsons.

Malachi, the center, is the leading Bearcat scorer by averaging 20.2 points. He scored 19 points against Shelby. His jam gave HHS an 18-18 lead to close the first period. He scored a career-best 38 points to lead HHS past R-S Central in the Mountain Foothills tournament title game at home on Feb. 17. He scored 23 points in the second half. Landrum scored 18 points versus R-S.

Malachi understands the mental aspects of the game. “We keep our heads, keep focus” to pull out close games, he said. “We keep our energy up.” Coach Featherstone said, “we conditioned all year for these moments” when HHS wears down foes with fast breaks and a tenacious full-court press.

Jacobi Simpson scored ten of his 11 points versus Shelby in the second half, including on a crucial pair of three-pointers in the final period. His first “trey” gave HHS the lead again, at 52-51. His other trey put HHS by ten at 64-54 with 2:40 left, capping a 12-3 HHS run. He also made a pivotal steal and basket. Jacobi led HHS with 24 points in round one.

Point guard Alijah Ferguson (9.2 PPG) scored all eight of his points versus Shelby in the first half. The senior cramped up and left the game in the fourth quarter. However, other guards stepped up. Peyton Reece Rodriguez, a junior, sealed the win. He nailed seven of eight foul shots in the final period, when he scored all 13 of his points.

Golden Lion Drew Hollifield sank five three-pointers in the first half, as he scored 17 points. But he scored merely two more points in the second half. Daylin Lee, Shelby’s 6-4 senior football quarterback, and La’Keith Hamilton each scored 15 points.

In round one, HHS ran Mount Pleasant Tigers off of the court in a 92-70 victory. HHS raced to a 19-5 lead, making the visit quite unpleasant for Mt. Pleasant. Two Bearcats had career days in this playoff opener. Ferguson scored 22 points, including on four three-pointers. He scored 17 total points in the second and third periods, when Jacobi Simpson erupted for 16 of his 24 points. Landrum scored 11 of his 18 points in the final period. Malachi Simpson scored 12 points in the opener.

First Round Winners

Several local teams won a round, before bowing out. Hendersonville Lady Bearcats (18-10), a 16th seed in 2A, beat McMichael 48-41, then lost 63-54 at number one seed Randleman (27-1) last Thursday. Senior Mia Hansen (16.3 PPG) is the top scorer for HHS, which is coached by Stephen Rogers.

West Lady Falcons (22-7) have also improved drastically. Kaycee Beyer coached them to more wins in 2022-23 than in the past half-decade combined. They beat North Iredell 50-43, then lost 67-46 at fifth-seeded Pisgah (23-4). Leading Lady Falcon scorer Jaza Wilson (13.7) is among four sophomore starters poised for further achievement.

Coach Justin Parris’ North Henderson Knights (19-10) led North Lincoln 18-6 after one period and by 16 after three periods. NHHS won 75-73, after withstanding a desperate three-point barrage. The 16th seeded Knights next lost 104-46 at top seed Central Cabarrus (28-0). Freshman Noah Pierce (14.6) and junior Bryson Rowe (12.9) are eager for next season.

Enka Jets (22-7) were seeded highest (fourth) among local 3A teams. They eliminated North Buncombe (13-13) by 84-69, then fell by one point at home by 64-63 to Crest. Enka led by four entering the final period. Brian Carver coaches Enka.

Jet all-MAC seniors Logan Crook (23 PPG) and Jacob Adair (20.2) each scored 21 points against NBHS. Sam Waddell (10.7) had 19 points. NBHS Hawks were led by MAC Player of the Year Chad Clark (22.3) and fellow senior Gabe Banks (10.8) with 18 points each, senior Spencer Roane (13.3) with 15 and junior Carson Brown with 11 points.

Early Exits

East and West Henderson boys, NBHS Lady Hawks, and 2A Owen Warhorses and Warlassies all bowed out in round one.

East Henderson (14-14) fell 75-54 at Asheboro. However, East head coach Marquintus Jones savors the program’s first-ever Mountain Seven tournament championship. Caiden Brewer (19 ppg.) scored 23 points in the finale. The sophomore will lead East in 2023-24.

Mountain Seven regular season champion West Henderson (17-9), the 3A ninth seed, lost 67-60 to athletic Kings Mountain. Senior guard Lukas Kachilo (12 PPG) led Coach Brandon Brooks’ Falcons with 22 points — 14 in the third period. Junior forward Grant Putnam scored nine of his 15 points in the opening period. M7 MVP Jackson Lyda (19.5 PPG), a junior, scored ten in the first half but merely one point afterward. Lyda (19.5 ppg.) and East’s Brewer are second and third among M7 players in scoring.

The Falcons are eager to defend their league baseball crown, for an historic sweep of conference titles in main boys’ sports of football, basketball and baseball. “This would show what it is to be a Falcon, and what we have to sacrifice to be great,” said all-M7 Truitt Manuel. The muscular junior is an ace pitcher and premier football receiver. Kachilo, WNC’s leading football passer last fall, said that he might play baseball – “wherever they need me” – to help the Falcons repeat as champions.