Senior Brad Kendrick refused to let Cherryville (18-1, 9-0) lose.
Within a two-minute stretch, in the final quarter, Kendrick scored six points in a key 10-0 run by the Ironmen to help lift Cherryville past North Lincoln 77-73.
At the time of the Ironmenâ€™s game-deciding run, the Knights (5-13, 4-5) had just gone on a 9-4 run with less than six minutes remaining to take a 63-58 lead.
Knights head coach David Johnson felt his team got away from the things that got them the lead.
â€œI think we went away a little bit from what got us where we were. We got a little excited and started pushing the ball more when we shouldâ€™ve been taking our time and working the clock,â€ Johnson said.
While a lack of execution down the stretch and turnovers could be blamed for the Knights falling short, nobody could blame junior Adrian Arruza.
Arruza, known for his good-shot selection and unselfish play, nailed six 3-pointers on his way to a career-high of 28 points.
After the game, Arruza was more concerned with not getting the win as opposed to his individual performance.
â€œIâ€™m glad for the points, but it really doesnâ€™t matter unless we get the win,â€ he said.
Arruza shared the thought many Knights and Knights fans hadâ€” they let a golden opportunity fall by the wayside.
â€œYeah, we couldâ€™ve had that one, couldâ€™ve made a big upset and changed the standings and everything, but we just let it slip away.â€
Kendrick wasnâ€™t the lone star for the No. 1 team in the state in 1A basketball as senior Antonio â€˜Poohâ€™ Griggs paced the Ironmen with 24 points, including five 3-pointers.
â€œI practice hard, so I thought maybe I could come out and shoot it and thatâ€™s what I did. They were leaving me open and I was just knocking them down,â€ he said of his 16 first-half points.
There were 13 lead changes in the ballgame and two ties, one at the end of the third period and one at the beginning of the fourth.
The 10-0 run, that started with 5:20 left in the contest, was something Ironmen head coach Scott Harrill knew had to happen if his team was to remain unblemished in Southern Piedmont play.
â€œWe talked a little bit about getting a run started, whether it be with a trap, being with a rebound and an outlet pass and I think we got a couple of turnovers and they took two quick shots,â€ he said. â€œWe needed something to get us jumpstarted. They were playing their tails off. They had a lot of people step up and hit shots,â€ he added.
While Cherryville remained perfect in conference play, Tuesday night was another in what seems to be the theme for the Knights seasonâ€”close but no cigar.
â€œWeâ€™ve played a lot of games really close. But Iâ€™ve told the boys, they could play with almost anyone. They stepped up and proved that tonight. Iâ€™m proud of them,â€ Johnson said.
Six-foot-7 Justin Johnson, who did not start, added 13 points, including three spectacular plays.
An alley-oop feed from fellow sophomore Cameron Lovelace, a follow-dunk on a teammateâ€™s missed jumper and a blocked shot where he seemingly came out of nowhere to swat away a Knights 3-point attempt.
â€œI never could get in a good rhythm tonight and Iâ€™m still working on keeping my composure,â€ Johnson said.
Senior Kenny Bethea complemented Arruza with 16 points, while Alex Loftin chipped in 10 in the loss.
Friday North Lincoln will face Highland Tech in an away contest. Cherryville will take their show of perfection to West Lincoln.
Then next Tuesday, the Ironmen will host a hungry East Lincoln, which will try to avenge a 62-53 loss on Jan. 10.
Entering the game, both teams were 4-0 and there has been a war of words, and much discussion, as to whoâ€™s team is better.
Both will get the chance to one-up the other Tuesday in another Southern Piedmont showdown.
by John Mark Brooks