Special to LTN
VALE — It’s a rare occasion when two rivals get together and both teams walk away smiling.
OK, maybe East Lincoln and West Lincoln weren’t all smiles after Tuesday night’s game, but both had reasons to be pleased after the Mustangs held on for a 43-37 win in the Southern Piedmont Conference opener for both teams.
“The first conference game for both teams and it’s one of those things — both teams played hard, scrapped hard,” East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “I thought West Lincoln did a really good job. They got us out of sync a little bit. We didn’t do what we wanted to do. I was happy to get away with a victory, always happy to get those.”
The victory was the fifth in a row for East Lincoln after opening the season with a loss at Newton-Conover. It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Rebels (2-5, 0-1 SPC), but one coach Karl Sain saw positives.
“I thought we battled real well. We were physical,” Sain said. “They got a lot of size on us. I really challenged my kids to step up inside, to help box out, to match their physicality because they’re such a big, physical team. I felt like we did that, we just couldn’t hit shots.”
After East Lincoln took a 10-3 after the opening quarter, West Lincoln cut the lead to three points twice in the second quarter — the first on a Dylan Frady three-pointer with 2:58 to play in the half. Houston Gilmore buried another three-pointer to cut the Mustangs’ lead to 20-17 with 1:01 left, but East Lincoln’s Domonique Smith banked in a shot from the halfcourt line at the buzzer to extend the Mustangs’ lead to 23-17.
“I kept telling my assistant coaches that that halfcourt shot was going to come back to bite us, and sure enough…” Sain said.
“The kid made a tough shot and we had a hand up in his face. He had a great shot.”
Playing in his first game since helping the East Lincoln football team capture the 2A state football title, Chazz Surratt (six points) scored to open the fourth quarter to give the Mustangs their largest lead of the game, 36-26.
But again, the Rebels weren’t about to let the Mustangs run away from them. Frady converted a steal into a layup to cut the lead to 40-35 with 3:10 remaining. But while East Lincoln struggled from the free throw line, connecting on just 3 of 9 in the final 1:30 and 8 of 26 for the game, West Lincoln couldn’t capitalize. Brett Huff and Gilmore both had clean looks at three-pointers that could have cut the lead to three points in the final minute.
“That’s a good team. It’s good to see how we match up,” Sain said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys. It’s one of those moral victories that you don’t necessarily like, but it does provide some confidence that we can play with that team. If we just had some shots go down or executed better or if we would have made one play, dove for a loose ball, then we could have been there.”
Huff led West Lincoln (2-5, 0-1) with eight points and Samuel Redding scored all seven of his points in the second half. But the Rebels made just 3 of 16 three-point attempts and were 10 of 19 on free throws.
Charlie Hills led East Lincoln (5-1, 1-0) with 10 points, Tyler Brock added eight and Smith scored seven.
“I think West Lincoln took us out of some of the things we wanted to do,” Hodges said. “We just have to go back and get better, keep working.”