Both teams looked a little wary to start, sizing each other up at 2-2 and Houlka’s Jesse Kelly hit the trey to put the Wildcats up 5-2 and spark the action from both sides of the court.
The Toppers responded with Caleb Morgan dishing to Justin Cousins for a deuce and Chris Thornton hit one from the charity stripe to tie things up. Sharone Wright’s steal set up Cousins for another bucket and Anquan Rusell took a steal to the hole to close the first quarter with the Toppers up 11-5.
Defense was the name of the game in a low-scoring second quarter that sent the Toppers into the break with a 19-14 lead.
Kelly started off the second half just like the first, hitting a trey to close the gap to 19-14 and Lewis Moore sank a deuce to tie it up 19-all and the battle began in earnest. Houlka’s Jonathan Ford hit a free throw to give the Wildcats a one-point lead and Houston’s Wright took it back on a trey. Russell and Wright hit a deuce each against Kelly’s free throws to keep the Houston boys in the lead 26-23 to close the third.
Houlka’s Tyreque Reed made a trip to the line for the Cats and closed the game to one point and Vell Harris hit the front end of a one-and-one to tie it again, but Houston’s Javarius Jones’ trip to the stripe put the Toppers ahead 30-28 and Russell’s steal set him up for two from the line for a four-point lead.
Houlka’s Dillan Easley cut it to two on a deuce but Rusell hit back-to-back buckets and added a free throw to extend the Houston lead to seven with two minutes to go.
Houlka’s Harris sparked a late fourth quarter rally with a steal to the hole, a free throw and a dish to R.J. Johnson for a deuce to keep the Cats in 39-35 and the Wildcats took six tries on one shot, but finally got it to fall to cut the lead to three.
Harris went in for a layup that Morgan swatted down, but Reed made his good to bring the Wildcats within two. Jones hit from the line to stretch to three and Kelly’s trey fell short. Russell finished things off with one from the line for a 43-39 Hilltopper win.
“It was a typical county rivalry,” said Houston coach Bruce Franks. “It’s supposed to be close and someone has to clinch the win at the end.”
Houlka’s Jimmy Guy McDonald said the intensity was what he’d expected in the county match as well.
“We had some missed shots and it could have been a different game,” McDonald said. “I’m proud of the job our defense did on rebounding. We had some turnovers in the first half, but they took care of the ball in the second half.”
Lady Toppers take a win
The Lady Toppers and Lady Wildcats had a low scoring game as well, with the Houston girls leading 16-12 at the half, but the Lady Toppers turned up the gas in the second half.
Keria McPherson hit for a deuce and Davianna Pulliam had a steal and dish to LaShari Free for a bucket and a steal and deuce of her own to help put the Houston girls on an 11-point run in the third.
Houlka’s Shainece McKinney hit a bucket to start the fourth and Pulliam got her own rebound and putback to keep the Lady Toppers lead.
McKinney hit again and followed it up with two from the line, Jesse Moore got a deuce, and Tyesha Atkinson had a steal to the hole, but they couldn’t keep up with the Lady Toppers.
Amber Frison sank a trey and dished to Free for a deuce and Free finished up with the last bucket of the game for a 39-26 Houston win.
“I’ll take the win, but the intensity level wasn’t there tonight,” said Coach Vernessa Gates. “We’re improving but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”