Facing Central Park Christian, from Birmingham, Ala., the Blue Raiders suffered a heartbreaking 71-69 overtime loss, while the short-handed Lady Raiders dominated the Lady Eagles 48-16.
Cleveland will return to District 5-AAA play this week as McMinn County pays a visit to the Raider Dome Tuesday while Soddy-Daisy will be in town Friday evening.
The odds seemed stacked against the Raiders from the moment the gargantuan Eagles set foot on the East Hamilton court with the Central Park roster including three players measuring in at 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11, and 7-feet tall, with only three players coming in under 6-foot-2.
“That’s the best team we’ll play all year. Not taking away from any of the teams that we play, but you don’t see three guys over 6-10 on one team. We just don’t see that,” Blue Raider head coach Jason McCowan said of the oversized team.
The stage was set for a game of David verses Goliath-like proportions, as Cleveland would fiercely battle to remain within reach of a lead takeover.
By the end of the first period, the Raiders were down by only two points, 18-16, thanks to the attempts of Kendrick Thompson, CJ Bryant, and Isaiah Beaty.
“I knew if we would stay disciplined and get over the ‘Wow, they’re really big factor!’ that we would be OK,” McCowan explained.
Posting a 21-12 scoring spurt, the second period ended with the Raiders up 37-30.
The hero of the first half was without a doubt Thompson, who was able to net 23 points, the majority of which came from seven 3-pointers.
“I feel like Kendrick (Thompson) being really hot, having 23 in the first half really settled us down, because it showed our guys that hey we’re good enough to beat this team,” McCowan said of the momentum brought on by Thompson.
The Eagles were able to challenge the Raider defense throughout the third period, adding 17 more points to decrease their deficit to just one — 48-47.
The fourth period continued the Eagles’ charge to retake the lead, and was the true definition of a cat-and-mouse as a one-point lead would continue to change hands. Bryant was able to tie the game up at 63-63 with a free throw with less than eight seconds remaining on the clock. A second, missed free throw took the game into overtime.
“We outplayed them in every facet of the game and then we missed 16 free throws. We outplayed them in every position but you can’t win games when you miss the free throws,” McCowan said.
The modern day David and Goliath tale would end in the giant’s favor this time, as the Eagles were able to finish on top, outscoring the Raiders 8-6 in the extra four minutes of play.
Central Park hit 6-of-8 free throws in the overtime with the last one coming with 13 ticks on the clock ofr a four-point advantage.
Cleveland’s DJ Jones did sink a basket in the final seconds but the final outcome had already been sealed.
Despite the loss, McCowan could not fault his team as it had come back from an embarrassing loss to Bradley Central and played Friday’s game with discipline, doing everything asked of it.
“They took that challenge and did a great job. I’m very proud of them and happy for the guys that got out there and really battled,” McCowan said of his team. “If we can be that way the rest of the year I think we’ll have a lot of success.”
Point leaders for the Raiders were Thompson with 34 points followed by both Bryant and Beaty with 10 points.
The Eagles were led by Srdjan Budimir with 20 points, Walter Arnold with 13 points, and Roderick Harris with 11 points.
LADY RAIDERS 48
LADY EAGLES 16
Still missing four starters from their lineup, the Cleveland girls were able to come back from a loss to Bradley Central earlier in the week, and secure a decisive win.
The Lady Raiders were coming off a 56-21 loss to Bradley and, due to inclement weather, had not been able to practice since Wednesday before heading to the showcase.
Despite coming into Friday’s game a record of 9-0, the Lady Eagles posed absolutely no threat to the Lady Raiders in the easy victory.
“We played a smaller team than us, and were able to come out with a lot of energy from the tip. We got our hands on a lot of basketballs and blossomed from there,” head coach Mindy Kiser said of Friday’s game.
The Blue-and-White outscored the opponents 16-6 to end the first period.
During the second period the Lady Raiders defense shined as the Lady Eagles weren’t able to register any points. That was not the case for Cleveland, as they were able to register another 12 points.
“We got some of our younger kids hitting some shots right before halftime and that was really good to see. We haven’t done that as of late and we were able to do that,” Kiser said of her young players’ efforts.
The Lady Eagles attempted to narrow their deficit and managed to score an additional seven points only to see the Lady Raiders score another nine points. The third period ended with the home team up 37-13.
The fourth period once again demonstrated some strong defense and offense by Cleveland as the Lady Eagles were only able to add three more points to the scoreboard, while the Lady Raiders tabulated another 11.
“I thought we were good on the glass. Our big girls inside did a good job and we controlled the tempo for most of the game,” Kiser stated.
The Lady Raiders were led by Graicyn Walkup, who was able to net four 3-pointers, racking up 12 points.
Hallea McClendon also added to the scoreboard with 10 points of her own. Kellee Geren was able to hit two 3-pointers during the game.
The point leader for the Lady Eagles was Lena Niang with 11 points.
Kiser hopes that the encouraging win will keep the team going as the season begins to wind down.
“We’ll just keep chugging along and moving forward.”
Cleveland 16 12 9 11 — 48
Central Park 6 0 7 3 — 16
LADY RAIDERS (48) — Graicyn Walkup 12, Hallea McClendon 10, Scoggins 8, Geren 8, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 4, Ginestri 4, Ware 2, Fugate, Saliba, Phillips, Crump.
LADY EAGLES (16) — Lena Niang 11, Body 3, Long 2, Long, Yow, Dickey, Boglin, Williams.
3-point goals: Cleveland 6 (Walkup 4, Geren 2); Central Park 1 (Body).
Free throws: Cleveland 8-of-12; Central Park 7-of-10.
Records: Cleveland 13-5; Central Park 9-1
Cleveland 16 21 11 15 6 — 69
Central Park 18 12 17 16 8 — 71
BLUE RAIDERS (69)— Thompson 34, Bryant 10, Beaty 10, Johnson 7, Jones 6, Little 2, Ware, Dykes, Scott, Brown, Constant, McRee.
EAGLES (71) — Budimir 20, Arnold 13, Harris 11, Williams 8, Iduwe 8, Gueye 6, Nance 5, Hale, Dickey, Grooms.
3-point goals: Cleveland 9 (Thompson 8, Bryant 1); Central Park 9 (Arnold 3, Budimir 3, Harris 3).
Free throws: Cleveland 12-of-27; Central Park 16-of-30.
Records: Cleveland 11-8; Central Park 10-5.