Rockets secure home court
The Forrest Rockets took care of business Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, beating Eagleville 57-47 in the regular season district finale that secured a fourth seed and home-court advantage in Friday night's opening round of the District 9-A Tournament.
"Gaining home-court advantage was huge for us. Our fans are always supportive and really give our players momentum in big games," said Forrest head coach Wes Hobbs. "Clinching fourth says a lot about how hard the players worked to get back in the district race."
The Rockets, who finished 8-6 in league play, will take on a Huntland Hornets squad that finished with a 7-7 district record.
The two teams split the regular season home-and-home match-up with the Hornets winning 70-65 in Franklin County and the Rockets taking their home game over Huntland by a wide 88-48 margin.
"Obviously versus Huntland, you have to limit their big three scorers. Make them take tough shots and earn every basket," said Hobbs. "We have to match the intensity we played with in our last meeting and play like exactly what this game is: win or go home."
On Saturday versus the Eagles, Forrest jumped out to a 5-0 lead on a Mark Pope three-pointer and a Dakota Zimmerman basket off an Eagleville turnover.
Darin Knox finally got Eagleville on the board, but a Ty Hoeft basket on a pretty inbounds play, followed moments later by a Jacob Daughrity steal and score, put Forrest up 9-2.
The Eagles came back with four straight to make it 9-6 before a Hoeft three-bomb and a Zimmerman basket with a few ticks remaining in the first quarter gave the Rockets a 14-6 advantage after the first eight minutes.
Forrest maintained their cushion for the entire second period with Eagleville cutting the lead to four points on two occasions.
A Chris Hale basket with under a minute to play in the first half sliced the Forrest lead to 24-20.
Mark Pope was at the free-throw line very late in the second quarter and made the first attempt, but the second try bounced off the rim and Kennedy Mathis hauled it in and scored on the put-back, making it a 27-20 ballgame at the half.
Eagleville was not ready to go away as they mounted a serious comeback, getting to within one point of the Rockets three times.
Hale capped off a 13-5 Eagleville run, scoring with under two minutes remaining in the third period to make it 33-32, but once again, Forrest held them off with four points by Tyler "Juice" Rumley on a jumper in the lane, plus two foul shots one possession later.
The Eagles stayed tough, only trailing by four points at 43-39 on a John Posada bucket before the Rockets picked up the pace and pulled away for good.
"Our game plan going in was to play a tough man-to-man defense and limit the opportunities of their best shooters," said Hobbs. "Eagleville was coming off a big-time win versus MTCS and we knew we had to mach their intensity."
They did and more.
Rumley scored four straight points again and Zach Horvath hit a pretty turn-around jumper in the lane to double the Forrest lead to 47-39.
Ben Kelly would hit the last meaningful basket for Eagleville before the Rockets put the game on ice, outscoring the Rutherford County squad 8-2 over the next three minutes.
Horvath started the run with a basket in the lane, and after an Eagleville basket, Lucas Pruitt scored near the rim to make it a 10-point game at 51-41.
Daughrity proceeded to stick the fork in the Eagles when he drained four consecutive free throws after a technical foul was whistled on the Eagles.
Eagleville went down by the 10 points and will travel to third-seeded Fayetteville on Saturday for their opening round district tournament tilt.
The Rockets put up a nice balanced scoring attack with Pope leading the way with a dozen points.
Zimmerman was also in double figures with 10 points, while Horvath, Rumley and Daughrity all scored eight points, Hoeft added five, Pruitt chipped in with four points, and Mathis netted a deuce.
"An important saying or motivation in the locker room the last few weeks has been 'everyone contribute,'" said Hobbs. "No matter how big or small, everyone has to do their part to make us successful. I was proud of the balanced scoring, and even more so, the solid minutes on the defensive end of the floor."
Kelly led Eagleville with 13 and Posada had 10.