By MICHAEL HUGHES
DENVER –– East Lincoln had little trouble in the first half with visiting Bunker Hill in Tuesday’s battle for first place in the Southern District 7. The second half was more in the Bears’ favor, but the Mustangs stayed comfortably in front for a 64-49 win to stay unbeaten in hoops.
“We played very well the first half, not quite as well the second half,” East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “They had something to do with that.”
The Mustangs extended a 19-7 first quarter lead to a cozy 38-17 halftime advantage before the Bears overcame their early offensive woes to nearly cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter.
“Their length really bothered us in the first half,” said Bunker Hill coach Matt Wilkinson, speaking mainly of East Lincoln’s 6-foot-8 center Charlie Mills, 6-3 wings Hayden Duggins and Mason Leach, and 6-3 guard Chazz Surratt. “They did a good job of getting out on our shooters. Several times I thought we had open looks, but we hesitated just a bit, and their length was able to … disrupt our rhythm shooters. We couldn’t make any shots in the first half.”
Bunker Hill juniors A.J. Hines J’Len Wilson led the third-quarter charge as the Bears took the ball hard to the rim and began to connect from the floor.
“We knocked down a few (perimeter jumpers) once we kicked it out,” said Wilkinson. “We did a better job of settling in in the second half, especially on the offensive end.”
Bunker Hill (7-4, 2-1) could never get closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter. East Lincoln (12-0, 3-0) missed its first six free throws in the period to keep things interesting, but could never pull away despite being in control for most of the hard battle.
“We did things we hadn’t been doing,” said Hodges, who was not pleased with his team’s second-half play. “We set a (goal) to get better each and every day. (On Tuesday) we didn’t.
“We’re happy to be 12-0, but we realize that we’re still a work in progress.”
Freshman Sage Surratt’s 15 points led the Mustangs in scoring, followed by sophomore Chazz Surratt with 14. Wilson (14 points) and Hines (12 points) scored the bulk of their total for the Bears in the second half.
Coming up, the Mustangs have what is considered two of the top teams in the conference—at Newton-Conover on Friday, and at home a week from Thursday against West Caldwell after exams.
“After those two games, I think we’ll have some indication of the pecking order in the conference,” said Hodges.
Bunker Hill takes on West Iredell tonight at home before facing Lincolnton on Friday.
BUNKER HILL 43
EAST LINCOLN 19
Brook Blevins scored 13 points and the Bears kept East Lincoln’s girls winless in conference play.
Hannah Moolenaar and Alyssa Fuller scored five points each for the Mustangs (2-10, 0-3), who were outscored 26-7 in the first half. Bunker Hill improved to 6-6 overall and 2-1 in the SD-7.