It was a packed house in Wartrace Friday night as the Forrest Rockets and Cascade Champions squared off in an important late season District 9A battle and the two longtime rivals did not disappoint the crowd, playing some old fashioned in your face defensive basketball where a four to six point lead must have felt like a million.
The Rockets won 48-38, pulling away late after the home squad mounted their last comeback attempt deep in the final period, only to be snuffed out on two huge back-to-back defensive stands that decided the contest with less than two minutes to go.
With the win, the eighth ranked Rockets (19-4, 10-2) clinched at least a tie for the regular season District 9-A crown when they learned after the game that Eagleville (12-9, 8-4) beat Huntland (15-4, 7-4).
At first, it looked like the Rockets would run away and hide early as they came out of the gate fast, scoring 19 first quarter points before managing just seven in the next two periods.
The initial eight minutes turned out to be the difference in the ballgame and it was a balanced offensive game plan as the Rockets scored from in close, from midrange, and from beyond the three-point line in the period.
"That was probably the best first quarter we played all season," said McClaran. "But we kind of coasted after that and lost our focus on the offensive end of the floor, but we never lost focus defensively and I was proud of that."
Gugger would go on to control the glass throughout the game, hauling down a season high 16 rebounds in the contest.
The eleven-point lead would shrink to seven by the end of the third period, even though Cascade outscored the Rockets in both the second and third periods, but the minimal gain by the Champs was due to a superior defensive effort by Forrest.
Cascade's Christian Edmondson, who was hounded all night by the Rocket backcourt was the leading scorer for the Champions with 11 points.
Forrest takes on No. 10 Summertown tonight in Chapel Hill on Homecoming night and will try to avenge a 58-53 loss to the Eagles earlier in the season.
McClaran said about the match-up, "No rest for the weary. I hope it ends in a twenty-second ballgame again and this time we have the ball in our hands and they have to make the defensive stop."