The East Lincoln Mustangsâ€™ season came to an end falling 58-53 against the Fred. T. Foard Tigers in the first round of the 3A State Playoffs Monday night.
While 15-11 is nothing to scoff at, it was a disappointing end to a season where East Lincoln exceeded anyoneâ€™s expectations in the Big South 3A. They were picked to finish last in a preseason poll.
Head coach Neil Hodges believed the difference-maker in the contest was at the charity stripe. The Tigers attempted 32 free throws, making 20 of them. The Mustangs, conversely, only attempted 19 (14-of-19).
â€œThe way the game was officiated enabled them to shoot more foul shots than we shot,â€ he said.
Darin Dellinger paced the Mustangs with 16 points, while Carlos-Marquez Sykes complemented him with 13. Wayne White, playing in his last high school game had 11 against the Tigers.
The coach, who missed most of last season supporting his wife, was able to pull many positives in spite of the way it ended.
â€œNobodyâ€™s season ends the way you want it to, except the state champion. Iâ€™m happy for our kids, they had a good year. They worked extremely hard and anybody that wants to get good has to work hard. Iâ€™m sorry to end it on a defeat. All in all, it was a good year,â€ Hodges said.
That â€˜hard workâ€™ Hodges refers to paid off for senior point guard Darin Dellinger, who earned a spot on the BS 3A All-Conference Team. Hodges also garnered the BS 3A Coach of the Year Award.
The coach said itâ€™s been real rewarding watching Dellinger develop over the past four years.
â€œHeâ€™s a kid that has worked extremely hard. You donâ€™t find many like him in this day and time. Heâ€™s the proverbial gym rat and has developed himself into a good player. He set a good example for kids in our program that if you want to be a good player, you have to put the time in. Iâ€™m real pleased and happy for him because I think itâ€™s a fine example of how hard work pays off.â€
As for his own award, he chose to downplay his role in the Mustangsâ€™ successful season.
â€œAnytime a coach receives any kind of individual award, itâ€™s a direct reflection of his players and coaching staff. Any success that has been had, was a direct result of our coaching staff and players. Iâ€™m excited and happy to have won the award,â€ Hodges said.
Looking ahead to next season, Hodges believes his program is headed in the right direction.
â€œThe program is in solid shape. We have some good young kids coming along. We look forward to participating in the new league next year and weâ€™re looking forward to improving, improving, improving,â€ he said.
Senior-to-be Jamelle Lowery will more than likely carry the scoring load next season. Lowery will look to fill the void as a perimeter threat left by Wayne White. He will also be called on for leadership.
Sophomore Alex Newsome and senior Nick Harmon will be the Mustangsâ€™ post players.
Hodges has been pleased with the development of both. In his estimation, Newsome is the first ninth-grader to play varsity under him. Harmon, who is continually improving, and the 6â€™5â€ Newsome will be counted on to lessen the loss of Carlos-Marquez Sykes and Josh Davis.
â€œIf the kids in our program coming up will work as hard as our seniors did this year, theyâ€™re going to be successful,â€ Hodges said.
East Lincoln 11 14 10 18-53
Fred T. Foard 12 13 11 22-58
MUSTANGS: Darin Dellinger 16, Carlos Marquez-Sykes 13, Wayne White 11, Lowery 4, Davis 3, Carter 2, Newsome 2, Harmon 2.
TIGERS: Adam Teague 16, Nick Gullett 13, Jon Fleming 10, Dodd 7, Granger 4, Mackey 4, Stuart 4.
by John Mark Brooks