Hunt was bidding for a chance to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship in the holiday dribblefest. Fike was bent upon joining the girls team and giving the Golden Demons an opportunity for a holiday tourney sweep in 2022.
In a typical Hunt-Fike dogfight, the Warriors hung on for a 61-56 victory before a decent second-night crowd and carry a 4-6 record in Thursday night’s championship test at 8 p.m. against undefeated (9-0) Southern Nash.
Fike’s seniors are destined to end their careers without a Farris & Thomas championship and will battle host Beddingfield in Thursday night’s consolation game at 5 p.m. with a 3-7 worksheet.
The Warriors constructed a 10-point lead (55-45) with less than three minutes remaining and survived three turnovers, a careless foul and a missed free throw to prevail.
“It’s big,” Hunt head coach Dwight Taylor remarked on the outcome of the first of at least three 2022-23 meetings against the Demons. “It gets the confidence up and just helps overall. Now to figure out how to win close games; we have been in all but two games we’ve played.”
Senior Josiah Peeples came off the bench to spark Hunt to its largest lead with a pair of 3-pointers. With freshman Austin Joyner benefiting on a fortunate bounce on a pair of free throws, Hunt kept the lead at 58-52. Peeples’ putback on Joyner’s missed second free throw sealed the outcome at 60-52 with 17 seconds remaining. Peeples also contributed a 3-pointer soon after coming off the bench in the third quarter.
“The last two games, (Peeples) has come in and stepped up,” Taylor explained his decision to substitute with Peeples. “I pushed the right button tonight.”
“It feels great,” Peeples said of his 11-point performance in a reserve role. “I try to do my part, and, if coming off the bench is the way to do it, I’m fine with it. I think this gave us a little boost and energized us. This was good for us.”
Peeples expected his 3-point shots to fall. Three of them did.
“I’m always confident when I shoot it,” he said. “I practice it a lot. If coach believes in me for that, I’m going to keep doing it. I haven’t had much opportunity to play late in the game, and maybe this will give me more leeway. It was good for me.”
And good for the Warriors, who got 17 points from 6-4 junior Alex Speight, 12 from late-arriving 6-4 junior Drew Pittman and nine from Joyner. Pittman and 6-foot-1 junior Xavier Barnes each snared six rebounds. Pittman, hobbled by a high ankle sprain, arrived at the end of the first quarter after getting his medical clearance.
“No. 15 (Speight) is growing,” Taylor remarked. “He has done a better job and is staying out of foul trouble.”
The Warriors were outrebounded 35-23 and committed 15 turnovers as compared to 20 for Fike. At the foul line, Hunt canned 10-of-16 attempts as compared to 8 of 20 for Fike.
The Demons were triggered by 6-5 senior Caleb Willingham with game-highs of 25 points and 14 rebounds. Senior Bryson Summerlin netted 12 points and junior Dylan Skinner 11. William Monk, a 6-4 sophomore, just missed a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.
“We beat ourselves,” Fike head coach Brent Secrest fumed. “We had 20 turnovers and missed 12 free throws. They got 18 points off our turnovers. Hunt got the (slower) pace it wanted and that is not what we like. We kind of picked up the pace at the end, but when you are not making free throws and turning the ball over, it’s not going to make any difference.”
Said Willingham: “(Hunt) outworked us. And we didn’t hit free throws and weren’t helping on defense. We saw that we were not hitting the 3s, and kept shooting them. There were a lot of factors in why we lost. From my point of view, we are a way better team.”
Fike jumped off to 5-0 and 8-2 leads. But Speight’s bucket left Hunt out front 9-8 after one quarter.
“I thought we looked good at the start,” Secrest said, “but it didn’t last long.”
The tenacious, tightly-contested pace continued in the second quarter. Fike regained the lead at 16-15 on Willingham’s field goal midway the period, but the Warriors moved back out front at 19-18 on a Pittman free throw and entered halftime up 21-18.
Back-and-forth action marked the third quarter until back-to-back baskets by Willingham and Summerlin sent Fike ahead 39-35 with 1:09 left in the quarter. But the Warriors cut the advantage to a single point on Pittman’s 3-pointer.
The Warriors then launched the final quarter with a field goal each from Peeples and Speight and the margin expanded to 53-44 on Pittman’s three-point play with 2:58 to go. Pittman flirted with breaking the game open in the fourth quarter, but Willingham and Summerlin stubbornly resisted.
“He was out there on a mission,” Secrest remarked of Willingham. “He thought he could do anything he wanted out there. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much help. But he missed some free throws, and he’s not exempt.”
“I have enjoyed the tournament,” Willingham assured, “but this is my last year and I didn’t even get to play in the championship. That kind of hurts.”
His last Farris & Thomas appearance will be against another archrival, Beddingfield, and Willingham declares: “I still want to go out there and get a win.”
Taylor described Hunt’s problems in protecting the lead late as “growing pains” with a roster that includes four sophomores and four freshmen.
Peeples is confident Hunt can be victorious if it dictates the pace and executes its game plan.
“The keys are taking care of the ball and rebounding,” Taylor emphasized. “Southern Nash is a really good team, and (Jordan) Vick is a special player.”
Willingham 25, Skinner 11, Summerlin 11,Monk 9, M. Buck, I. Buck, Dagraca.
Speight 17, Pittman 12, Peeples 11, Joyner 9, Kirk 7, Alston 4, Barnes 1, Lovely, Coley.
Score by quarters:
Fike 8 10 21 17 — 56
Hunt 11 10 17 23 — 61
Farris & Thomas Holiday Tournament Glance
All games played at Beddingfield High
Tuesday, Dec. 27
Fike 78, Hunt 59
Beddingfield 59, Southern Nash 32
Wednesday, Dec. 28
Third-place game — Hunt 74, Southern Nash 60
Thursday, Dec. 29
Championship game — Fike vs. Beddingfield, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 27
Southern Nash 72, Beddingfield 44
Wednesday, Dec. 28
Hunt 61, Fike 56
Thursday, Dec. 29
Third-place game — Beddingfield vs. Fike, 5 p.m.
Championship game — Southern Nash vs. Hunt, 8 p.m.