Senior shooting guard Antonio Griggs set a school record for the Cherryville Ironmen with 89 wins in a career.
Unfortunately, for the Ironmen faithful, he needed 90 to keep the Ironmenâ€™s season alive.
Hiwassee Dam limited Cherryville to just seven second quarter points to swing the game in its favor in an 80-73 win.
â€œWe were disappointed. We were very disappointed in not being able to advance. But looking back at the overall season, we felt like it was a good season being 25-4,â€ head coach Scott Harrill said.
No one who made the near five-hour trek to the western tip of North Carolina could blame 6-foot-7 sophomore Justin Johnson. Johnson had a monster game, scoring 31 points, ripping down 12 boards and swatting away three blocks.
â€œHe played an outstanding game. He was dominant in the paint and did everything we asked him to do. From last year to this year, itâ€™s night and day difference,â€ Harrill said. â€œHeâ€™s just become more of a presence inside on offense and defense. Heâ€™s learning to play a complete game. The improvement we saw from last year to this year, weâ€™re just looking forward to the future with him to see how much more he can improve,â€ he added.
Harrill believes the Eaglesâ€™ defensive pressure and intensity got to his guards in the second quarter and forced costly turnovers.
â€œWe had a lot of turnovers. They put good pressure on the ball. It wasnâ€™t that we missed a bunch of shots, we just had a lot turnovers, particularly in the second quarter.â€
Starters Griggs and Brad Kendrick played their last game as an Ironmen, as well as reserves Nick Lopez and Cameron Feemster.
â€œWeâ€™re proud of those seniors. They gone through a lot the last four years, especially Griggs. Even though our young guys are real good, you still need good senior leadership and weâ€™re proud of what they accomplished,â€ Harrill said.
Griggs, who averaged 18 points per game, also set a school record with 89 victories, as Cherryville just became a 9-12 school in 1996. He joined Cameron Lovelace (15) and Jamelle Jefferies (12) in double figures with 11.
â€œIt shows you through hard work and dedication, heâ€™s made himself into a winner both on and off the court. He came in from a middle school team that only won one game combined in seventh and eighth grade,â€ Harrill said.
Will Austin scored a team-high 20 points, while Chris Allen and T.J. Pinkerton had 16 apiece.
All things considered, Harrill was disappointed his team couldnâ€™t make it over the proverbial hump of winning on the road. For the second consecutive season, the Ironmen fell away from the friendly confines of
their home court.
â€œOur goal is to be one of the best teams in the state and we have to get to that level where we can win on the orad in the playoffs. Thatâ€™s something you have to do to advance in the playoffsâ€”you got to be able to win on the road,â€ he said.
After advancing one round further than last season and not making it to Winston Salem, Johnson just felt it wasnâ€™t meant to be.
â€œIf God wanted us to be in Winston Salem, we wouldâ€™ve won. Or if He wanted us to make it to the state, we wouldâ€™ve been there. But everything happens for a reason,â€ he said.
by John Mark Brooks