Rockets prevail in thriller on the hill
In what many observers called the best high school boys basketball they have ever witnessed, the number four seeded Forrest Rockets gutted out three overtimes, upsetting top seeded Eagleville 81-75 in front of a wild and raucous standing room only crowd in the first Friday night semifinal of the District 9-A Tournament in Chapel Hill.
Forrest junior Kyle Gugger was a man possessed, pouring in a career high 36 points, including five clutch free throws in the final overtime.
"I have never seen anything like this," said a drained, but ecstatic Forrest head coach Davy McClaran after the contest. "I am so proud. I am just speechless right now. They represented their school, their families, and past teams to the max. They are warriors to the heart."
Freshman southpaw guard Mark Pope continued his season long stellar play, having a huge hand in the victory with the go-ahead three-bomb at the outset of the third overtime and the game icing free-throw with 10.3 seconds left in the contest.
And then there was senior postman Parker Holton, who battled all night long with Eagleville's Kevin Brown for supremacy in the low post.
Holton left it all on the hardwood, scoring 13 points, including two big foul shots with 50.4 seconds left in the third overtime and a monster three-pointer in the first OT.
Brown had a team high 24 points for the Eagles and tied the game at the end of the third quarter, at the end of regulation, and at the end of the initial overtime period with huge buckets in the paint.
Eagleville's Jonathon Porter can't be left out of the heroes' column either, raining down one of the biggest three-point bombs in district tournament history with 4.1 seconds left in the first overtime, tying the game at 63.
The thrill on the hill triumph sends the red-hot Rockets into Tuesday night's district title tilt versus archrival Cascade at 7:30 p.m. back at Forrest.
The Champions easily handled Community 46-23 in Friday night's second semifinal.
Forrest and Cascade also earned first round satellite home games in the Region 5-A Tournament next Saturday night.
McClaran said, "I hope there is a lot of basketball for us left to play down the road. No one expected us to be here except everyone in that locker room over there and me. Hosting a region game will be tremendous. It gives us an opportunity to advance."
Eagleville was in control the first half and led 30-19 at the intermission.
Forrest took the lead at 35-33 on a Gugger three-pointer with 3:35 remaining in third period, but saw Brown tie the game at 40 at the buzzer.
Both squads slugged it out in the fourth quarter with six game tying shots between them, including Brown's knotter with 28.4 seconds left.
The Eagles took a four point lead to begin the first overtime before Holton rained down a three and Gugger followed with another, eking the Rockets out in front 57-55.
Corey Bishop gave Forrest a 63-60 lead, canning two clutch free throws with 13 seconds left before Porter wowed the capacity crowd with his heat seeking missile that tied the instant classic at 63 with 4.1 seconds left.
Porter would give the Eagles a 66-65 lead with another three-pointer with 2:42 left in the second overtime.
The Rockets would claw back, going ahead 67-66 on two Pope free-throws with 1:42 remaining.
Taylor Gentry hit one of two from the line with 56.7 seconds left for a two-point Forrest lead.
Eagleville coach Joey Reed called timeout with 49.2 seconds left and set up a play for Brown in the low post.
Brown and the Eagles made it work, tying the ballgame at 68 and sending it into the fateful third and final overtime period.
After an Eagleville miss beginning the final four minutes, Pope knocked down a rainbow from the top of the key, giving Forrest a 71-68 lead.
Eagleville would cut the lead to one-point twice before Forrest pushed ahead by four at 76-72 on two Gugger free throws.
Tyler Davenport cut the lead back to a single point with a trey with under a minute to go.
Gugger was clutch again with 23.9 seconds left, draining two more foul shots.
This time McClaran called time and Forrest knew what was coming.
Eagleville went back to Brown in the post, but this time Holton stopped him and Pope got the rebound, giving Forrest the ball and a three-point lead with 10.3 seconds left.
Pope was fouled on the rebound and went to the line.
He missed the first attempt, but buckled down and swished the second, giving the Rockets the all-important four-point spread at 79-75.
Eagleville missed at the other end and Gugger put the cap on the classic with two more foul shots for the final six-point margin of victory at 81-75.