Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Eagles defense takes charge(s)

Seneca Valley 65, Damascus 60

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It was the perfect game for the Seneca Valley boys to ring in the new year — hosting rival Damascus, who would take the lead several times throughout last Friday night’s match-up, in a packed gym with the intensity of a playoff game.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the back-and-forth affair, but the reason for the Eagles 65-60 outlasting of the Hornets was anything but typical.

‘‘Taking charges,” said Seneca Valley guard Joe Rankin, who took one of the six that the Eagles drew on the night, ‘‘and overall defense. ‘‘Our [assistant coach Jesse Irvin] tells us, ‘Don’t get out of control, don’t jump up all wildly, just play solid defense and take the charge. We had a lot of them tonight.”

It was the defensive intensity that helped the Eagles finally pull away by the slightest of margins down the stretch. The first half, just like the second half, swung like a pendulum — at first it was the Eagles getting off to an early lead thanks to drawing charges. Junior forward Bruce Massey (game-high 19 points) got one on Damascus power forward Kyle Frazier, which drew a technical foul on Hornets head coach Rick Riley. Massey’s brother, freshman point guard Malik, hit two free throws to extend the Eagles to a ten-point lead early on. The Hornets gamely fought back, however, and took a three-point lead on a slashing layup from Frazier (12 points, game-high 17 rebounds). Fittingly, the runs balanced out and the teams were deadlocked at intermission.

The team’s swapped leads times and again in the next 16 minutes, but again it was defense that made the difference. Rankin, who only played the second half due to debilitating back pains, picked up a steal and went all the way for the layup that gave the Eagles a three-point lead with two minutes to play. And still clinging to a three-point lead, a cavalcade of defenders swarmed Damascus point guard Mac Minturn (13 points, four assists) on a drive to the bucket, and his ensuing missed shot resulted in a tie-up.

‘‘Defense wins games,” said Rankin. ‘‘I love it. That brings us together offensively when we play like that on defense.”

With the possession arrow pointing Seneca Valley’s way and just over ten seconds remaining, the Hornets were forced to foul. And the younger Massey (15 points) showed steely reserve not normal in a freshman, bottoming two free throws to ice the game.

It was an important 3A⁄2A⁄1A West Divisional victory for the Eagles, at least to head coach Tom Sheahin. He’s already thinking about the playoffs, and while he didn’t feel the team’s intensity was consistent for 32 minutes, he likes where his team is at right now.

‘‘We’re a half-game behind Paint Branch to have that number-one seed in the playoffs, and that’s what we play for,” he said. ‘‘We want to have all our playoff games here.”